Govs slam federal brucellosis plan; Yellowstone bison in the crosshairs

A federal plan to set up a brucellosis management zone around Yellowstone National park would do nothing to eliminate the disease while stigmatizing stockmen in the area, according to the governors of Wyoming and Idaho.

Under the plan, cattlemen in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem would be required to regularly vaccinate cattle and test for brucellosis; these steps are required only when there’s a known case of brucellosis in cattle.

Brucellosis is a hot topic when it comes to Yellowstone National Park. It’s a disease that can cause cattle to spontaneously abort their young. It was much more prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s, but since the disease has by and large been eliminated in the ranching world — except for the Yellowstone region. Bison are a known carrier of the disease, and although there’s no documented case of a bison transmitting the disease to cattle — indeed, the much more prevalent elk is a more likely transmitter of the disease to cattle — area politicians have seized on the bison as a target of their ire. Unfortunately for the bison, brucellosis management really means bison management — and managing the bison typically means culling the herd to prevent them from wandering outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.

In a letter sent to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming and Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho say the key to stopping brucellosis isn’t to force ranchers to manage their herds. Rather, the federal government should focus on eliminating the disease — and to them that means eliminating the disease from the wild.

The logical extension to this, of course, is eliminating in the bison and elk herds in the region. While that may be an achievable goal among bison — we are, after all, talking about only 3,000 or so bison in the region — it’s absurd to think the tens of thousands of elk in the region could be vaccinated. So we are not entirely sure Freudenthal and Otter are truly serious when they say they want to manage it in the wild. And, of course, there is a little of the political in the protest: both Freudenthal and Otter are Republicans, while Schweitzer is a Democrat and, of course, the rules are being overseen by the Obama administration.

So while this letter makes good political theater and allows Freudenthal and Otter some cheap political points among their state’s cattle industries, it does nothing to advance the dialog about how to truly eliminate brucellosis in the Yellowstone ecosystem.


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