Wolves Help Contain Chronic Wasting Disease
When attempting to manage wolf populations today, we must admit that the threat of prion contamination in our watersheds and food chain now poses a much greater risk to several industries, human health, and homeland security than our god-given wolves ever did. In fact, predators are one of nature’s few defense barriers against the deadly spread of prion disease.
Prions are a form of deadly protein that builds up in the cells and bodily fluids of people and animals afflicted with various forms of prion disease, including mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease, scrapie, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Prions now are such a formidable threat that the United States government enacted the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 to halt research on infectious prions in the United States in all but two laboratories. Now, infectious prions are classified as select agents that require special security clearance for lab research. The intent is to keep prions and other dangerous biological materials away from terrorists who might use them to contaminate, food, water, blood, equipment, and entire facilities.
Dr. Stanley Prusiner earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for identifying and studying deadly prions. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the growing significance of his discovery.
We now know that various forms of prion disease are already spreading around the world. Prion disease has been found in humans, livestock and a variety of wildlife species across the U.S. and Canada (in gray wolf habitat). Reducing wolves in these areas below natural numbers will open the door even wider to the deadly spread of prion contamination in the environment.
The prion pathogen spreads through urine, feces, saliva, blood, milk, soil, and the tissue of infected animals (not to mention soil and water). With those attributes, prions obviously can migrate through surface water runoff and settle in groundwater, lakes, oceans, and water reservoirs. There is not a known cure for prion disease and allowing sick animals to wander the wild unchecked by wolves will further contaminate entire watersheds – increasing the pathway to humans, livestock, and wildlife downstream.
If prions must be regulated in a laboratory environment, the outdoor environment should be managed accordingly. Wolves and other predators represent one of the few natural barriers to help minimize the spread of prions in the environment and within our food chain. Accelerating the killing of wolves and other predators for profit and pleasure is a foolish experiment in prion management and a reckless platform for safeguarding wildlife, watersheds, and homeland security. In fact, the National Park Service studied the issue and concluded that “as CWD distribution and wolf range overlap in the future, wolf predation may suppress disease emergence or limit prevalence.” (The Role of Predation in Disease Control: A Comparison of Selective and Nonselective Removal on Prion disease Dynamics in Deer.)
Now, more than ever, wolves are part of a healthy ecosystem and a healthy future. It’s time to develop a comprehensive prion-management strategy that maximizes safeguards for human health, food, water, and wildlife around the globe. The stakes are too high for fragmented and misguided prion policies. Just ask the Canadian cattlemen what a few prions did to their industry. Ask the U.S. cattle and dairy industries if they want to increase prion pathways in the watersheds that feed our public and private lands.
My guess is that a prion in the soil or water doesn’t care if it attaches to a cow, sheep, deer, elk, or human. It kills them all with the same efficiency. Dilution of this pathogen is not a solution. Ignoring this pathogen is not a solution because prions migrate, mutate and multiply. Let wolves and other predators do their job in the food chain without human interference. This is no time for people to play god.
Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and the prion disease epidemic is an area special expertise. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform firstname.lastname@example.org.