Wildlife Diseases

These snow geese were victims of an event that killed about 1500 other geese. While sad, it didn’t hurt the population as a whole.

If you have been reading the newspaper headlines from across the country, you know better than to venture outside in Eastern Idaho without an umbrella. Dead snow geese are falling from the sky! It started when one reporter took an off-the-cuff comment during a news interview and turned it into a headline and national sensation. While true that about 1500 dead snow geese—killed by an unknown agent—have been collected and incinerated by wildlife professionals, many of the facts were twisted or misconstrued, leaving the public wondering about just how safe they really are from wildlife disease.

Disease is a natural part of any wild population of animals. I define disease fairly broadly here to include bacterial, fungal and viral infections. However, I exclude parasites and poisoning that is man-caused, such as DDT, rodenticide or even moldy grain. Poisoning is a societal choice or the result of poor judgment and is not part of this discussion.

Diseases such as tularemia, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, plague, avian cholera, avian flu and botulism, are always present in the various wildlife communities. Typically, they are at low levels that cull weak and injured animals.

However, there are times when an “outbreak” occurs and large numbers of otherwise healthy animals are affected by a naturally occurring disease. In recent past, epizootic hemorrhagic disease killed hundreds of white-tailed deer in North Idaho. Botulism killed over 10,000 waterbirds of all kinds on American Falls Reservoir, and most recently, an undetermined killer slew the 1500 snow geese at Mud Lake, Market Lake and Camas NWR. However, none of these resulted in population level declines.

There are no natural defenses against introduced or non-native pathogens and their impact on populations can be more devastating. These diseases include: white-nose syndrome in bats, West Nile Virus in birds, brucellosis (a European cattle disease) in elk and bison, and Bd chytrid fungus in amphibians. In fact, some scientists consider infection from the Bd chytrid fungus, likely started from worldwide distribution of the African clawed frog for use in human pregnancy testing, to be the worst infectious disease ever experienced by vertebrates. 

These outbreaks flare up when environmental conditions swirl like a perfect storm. Almost always, concentration of animals is part of the equation. In the case of the white-tailed deer, drought concentrated them at available springs where the knat that carried the disease also thrived.

Some wildlife diseases can be transmitted to humans, but most are not human diseases. Humans can’t get sick from most avian flu strains or avian cholera. The trick is telling the difference between an animal sick with a transmittable disease and one that is not. The advice to NEVER handle any animal that looks sick or injured is wise indeed. It could be innocuous, but it could also be plague or rabies.

There is only one solution to wildlife disease: leave wild animals sufficient habitat to stay naturally dispersed. I hope we can do that.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho