Meningeal Worms in Elk–Who Knew its Importance?

For the past month or so, our Agriculture Committee has been dealing with the meningeal worm parasite issue, off and on.  We’ve had three days of testimony, each lasting for well over an hour, from a room full of passionate people.  What is the meningeal worm?  It’s a parasitic worm present in the Eastern United States, east of the 100th parallel, which is about the middle of North Dakota.  This worm is commonly carried by White Tail Deer, but it doesn’t affect them; they are just the carrier.  The worm larva pass out in the deer droppings, then snails slime over the droppings and inadvertently pick up the worm.  When elk or moose eat the snails, or even the grass they snails slime over, they can become infected with the worm, which is deadly for them.

So here’s the dilemma:  For many years there has been a ban in Idaho on importing elk from east of the 100th parallel.  This year we had a rule request to drop that ban for elk from private ranches, and only after one treatment with a de-wormer,  The elk ranchers in Idaho adamantly believe it is safe to import from private ranches.  The sportsman community and hunters do not agree and think the risk is too great.

We heard from 4 different Veterinarians, a whole line up of experts on both sides and impassioned folks from various viewpoints.  Then this morning, our committee of nine Senators had to make our decision.  It was very difficult because I support business and don’t want undue regulation.  But there’s also a matter of safety.  We have the rule in place right now.  Any change should be driven by a preponderance of evidence.  It was just not there.  The science on both sides was weak, the dewormer cannot cross into the central nervous system where the worm resides, and both sides lacked reliable, up to date research.  So I voted to retain the current rule in place, but I encouraged the elk ranchers to work on the experimental blood test, now in process, that might offer the ability to test for the infection  in the future.

The committee voted 5-4 to keep the existing rule.