The changes basically lessen the penalties to ranchers carrying herds infected with brucellosis, a disease that causes livestock to spontaneously abort fetuses. Fear over bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle has a large role of the management of Yellowstone National Park cattle: it’s why bison wandering outside of the Park in search of food have been hazed into the Stephens Creek facility, with brucellosis-positive bison slated to be put down, pending an upcoming court case. It’s why the state zealously works to keep bison away from public lands where cattle graze.
The new management rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture do not penalize cattlemen to the same extent as past rules. For starters, if a herd has a small number of cattle infected with brucellosis, cattlemen will not be required by USDA rules to put down the whole herd. Second, instances of brucellosis will not automatically lead the state to lose a “brucellosis-free” status; this cuts down the amount of money needed to test whole herds and requalify for brucellosis-free status.
Now, we’re sure Montana cattlemen still aren’t going to be too thrilled with bison and cattle grazing on the same public lands (albeit at different times), and cattlemen will continue to have a big say (some say way too big of a say) in bison management. Still, considering the penalties for any sort of brucellosis transmission have been eased — and there’s still not a documented case of bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle — perhaps some new rules that can prevent the current bison quandary can be avoided.