Is Wild Meat Healthier Part 2

greenwinged teal

A dabbling duck like this green-winged teal is less likely to bioaccumulate toxins and heavy metals than a merganser or diving duck.

As we field dressed my wife’s elk several weeks ago, we took a blood sample with a kit supplied by Idaho Department of Fish and Game for testing for brucellosis, a livestock disease transmittable to humans. However, we will not likely ever know the result of that test.

That points to one of the arguments against wild meat. Since this is meat from a natural, uncontrolled environment, it is not inspected for quality or uniformity and it is rarely examined for parasites, diseases, heavy metals or chemical contamination unless the harvester specifically seeks such examination. On the other hand, monitoring for diseases and other issues is a standard practice with farm-raised animals.

Where do toxins in the environment come from? Industrial, agricultural and community pollutants enter the ecosystem from various point sources, but tend to migrate downstream, accumulating near the terminal ends of drainages. The closer to the endpoint of a drainage (this includes reservoirs that stop the flow of contaminants and concentrates them) the higher the concentrations. Animals can slowly absorb these toxins through a process called bioaccumulation, especially methylmercury, various pesticides, PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls, which haven’t been produced in the United States since being banned in 1979, but still exist in significant quantities due to their high stability), mirex, chlordane and DDT (banned in 1972, but still around).

Animals that live in these concentration areas are often deemed unfit to eat because the environment in which they live is full of contaminants and they absorb and accumulate them from the foods they eat. For instance, there are at least 22 water bodies in Idaho where warnings about consumption have been issued by the Idaho Fish Consumption Advisory Program (

DocView.aspx?id=1434&dbid=0&repo=PUBLIC-DOCUMENTS&searchid=98b43f0a-51bd-4467-90d1-c44ebc5c6923). People are warned to avoid or limit eating fish from these waters because toxins such as mercury and heavy metals accumulate in their flesh. Sometimes these warnings are temporary, more often they are permanent.

Fish are not the only edible critters to bioaccumulate toxins. Waterfowl are also highly susceptible. Fish-eating and diving ducks are often more contaminated than dabbling ducks because of their diets high in fish and invertebrates which tend to accumulate the toxins. In some places, health officials recommend not eating mergansers at all and limiting other waterfowl meals to twice a month.

The preparation of any fish, waterfowl or, I assume, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, from contaminated waters always follows the same guidelines. Remove the skin and remove all fat before cooking. That is because toxins tend to settle into fat and skin and are not metabolized.

The processing of wild animals can sometimes lead to infection or exposure. External parasites are a prime source. Fleas may carry bubonic plague and ticks carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease, all serious illnesses. Handling meat may expose you to brucellosis, tuberculosis, or tularemia. Consuming wild meat could expose you to chronic wasting disease or parasitic diseases such as trichinosis.

For most wild meat, this really is not as big a problem as you might think. In 30 years as a wildlife professional, I can think of only a case or two a year where harvested animals in my area were deemed unfit for consumption. Often these were related to injury or wounding during hunting. As an example, in the past 60 years, only six cases of plague have been reported in Idaho. The good news is that in a natural setting, sick and injured animals don’t last very long and are seldom available for human harvest. Worldwide, most diseases transmitted to humans from animals actually come from domesticated animals, not wildlife. In less developed countries, zoonotic diseases (transferred from animal to man) account for 2.2 million deaths a year and most cases come from livestock.

The bottom line is simple: most wild meat is safe and healthy. However, hunters, fishermen, trappers and others who consume wild meat must take personal responsibility to recognize the symptoms of disease and also in the handling, processing, storing and cooking of wild meats to ensure quality and safety.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

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.

"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