State deals with worries over worms

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A wolf makes his way through the woods north of Whitefish on Thursday.

A potentially dangerous tapeworm carried by wolves has raised growing concerns, but some state officials say the issue is an overhyped, alternative way to demonize wolves.

“I believe that there are some who wish it ... to be the silver bullet to remove the wolf,” said state Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell. “And it isn’t going to work.”

At issue is Echinococcus granulosus, a tapeworm found in Canadian wolves and the wolves that have proliferated in Montana.

Jim Beers, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and refuge manager, is one of the leading activists raising alarms about the tapeworm, with an upcoming speaking engagement on the subject sponsored by the Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights in Post Falls, Idaho.

Beers outlined the problem in a recently published article, saying wolves can spread the tapeworm to dogs and humans by contact with wolf scat infested with tapeworm eggs.

“The eggs are not only persistent, they are readily picked up by humans, their clothing and boots and brought inside where toddlers and those that do not routinely wash their hands to those that unknowingly breath in the eggs when the eggs are disturbed and airborne in the home can become infected,” Beers writes.

The tapeworm can then cause dangerous internal cysts in humans that are difficult to remove through surgery, he states.

Beers goes on to characterize wolves as the vector for transmitting an “invasive species” of parasite, and he points out that environmentalists and government agencies usually go to war against invasive species.

The tapeworm issue has caused quite a stir, mostly on the Internet, said Jim Williams, Region One wildlife manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“We are getting lots of phone calls and it’s because of the Internet,” said Williams, adding that the department has posted considerable information on its website about protecting oneself from potential exposure.

But Williams and Tutvedt say some perspective is in order regarding the dangers of the tapeworm.

“There are lots of wildlife diseases and parasites, including this tapeworm,” Williams said. “You’ve got to put this thing in perspective.”

Williams noted that coyotes and foxes are known to carry a different type of tapeworm that is “just as bad, if not worse” and deer and other wildlife can carry a variety of parasites and diseases.

That’s why hunters are urged to wear protective gloves when field-dressing game animals, and the state recommends that dog owners have their pets de-wormed.

“It’s a risk but there are a lot of other risks,” said Tutvedt, a rancher who sits on the Legislature’s Environmental Quality Council. Tutvedt said the tapeworm issue came up at one of the council’s recent hearings on wolves. “Livestock and game animals by their very nature come with risks.”

A recent to the letter to the editor in the Inter Lake claimed that wolves were illegally introduced to Montana despite officials knowing about the dangers of the tapeworm.

Williams refutes that, saying that Canadian wolves migrated on their own into the North Fork Flathead drainage in the mid-1980s and have naturally proliferated since then under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Thousands of people have ventured into the North Fork since then, he said, but there have been no known incidents of human tapeworm infections.

Mark Johnson, a wildlife veterinarian who was the project veterinarian for the 1995-96 reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, recently offered testimony on the tapeworm issue to the Environmental Quality Council.

“I hereby testify that it is extremely unlikely that any reintroduced wolf from Canada could have carried Echinococcus tapeworms into the U.S,” he wrote.

He stated that the parasiticide used on the wolves is 100 percent effective in removing tapeworms.

“Every wolf was treated at least twice with Droncit injections before they were transported into the United States,” he stated, adding that the wolves are were treated for other parasites.

Johnson said the tapeworm is “endemic to Montana” and its presence cannot be eliminated by reducing wolf numbers.

“Therefore, it is important for all people who could have exposure through outdoor activity or from their pets to take precautions to minimize exposure to this [parasite], just as they should take precautions against the other zoonotic diseases in Montana such as plague, tularemia, hantavirus, West Nile virus and tick-borne diseases.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has detailed information on wolves, the tapeworm and other wildlife diseases on its website at:

http://fwp.mt.gov

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by e-mail at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

A wolf makes his way through the woods north of Whitefish on Thursday.

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