The Wayward West

  The first reported case of chronic wasting disease has hit Montana. The fatal disorder has been slowly spreading throughout the West's elk and deer populations for the past 30 years (HCN, 9/27/99). Early this month, an autopsy report proved it killed a game farm elk on the Kesler ranch in Philipsburg. Josh Turner of the Montana Wildlife Federation called the disease "the greatest threat to Montana's public wildlife in this century." The remaining 80 elk on the Montana game farm will be destroyed.


On Nov. 5, President Clinton announced that the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River, the Hanford Reach, is now part of the Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge (HCN, 10/27/97). The 51-mile reach runs through the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington and is critical spawning habitat for fall chinook salmon. The area was managed by the Department of Energy but Clinton has transferred the land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "This is a critical step towards protecting salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest," says the head of American Rivers, Rebecca Wodder.


Environmentalists were also happy about the addition of Puget Sound bull trout to the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the fish Nov. 1 after four environmental groups threatened to sue. Now local governments will develop conservation plans for the fish. This was the last unlisted population of bull trout in the country (HCN, 6/22/98).


The House Resources Committee has passed a bill that gives states $3 billion to fund land purchases and wildlife conservation programs. The money is revenue the government brings in from off-shore oil leases, which has been sitting in the Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund (HCN, 3/1/99). Environment-alists were thrilled, but some Western Republicans don't want the federal government to buy any more private land. "We will all rue this day," Republican Helen Chenoweth-Hage of Idaho told the National Journal News Service.


* Rebecca Clarren