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States Draw Line Against Yellowstone Brucellosis

The cattle states of Colorado and Nebraska are putting up some defenses over what’s going on with brucellosis up in the Yellowstone country of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The two states that share borders with Wyoming are putting stricter animal identification requirements in effect for cattle that have spent any time in the Yellowstone Park area.

Until Texas recently discovered eight head of cattle at Rio Grande City suffering from bovine brucellosis, the area in and around Yellowstone National Park was the only part of the West experiencing the bacterial infections also known as Bang’s disease.

Texas was free of Bang’s disease for five years until the Texas Animal Health Commission came back last month with positive tests from R.Y. Livestock Sales at Rio Grande City.

In animals brucellosis can cause calves to abort, only weak calves to be born, and reduced milk production. Known as undulant fever in humans, a brucellosis infection can come from unpasteurized milk or contact with birthing material of a infected cow or new-borne calves.

Yellowstone — the flagship of the national park system — covers 2.2 million acres, making it larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.  With populations of bison, moose, elk, pronghorn, and two species of bear, it isn’t getting on top of its brucellosis problem fast enough for cattlemen.

The Wyoming Livestock Board’s Jim Schwartz is not surprised that states like Colorado and Nebraska are going to be more careful about Cowboy State cattle. He says the neighboring states are just trying to protect their livestock.

Beginning Sept. 1, Colorado will require that all sexually intact female cattle that have spent any time near Yellowstone carry a Colorado-approved ear. The Wyoming Legislature, which has already adjourned for the year, opted not to go with an animal identification system that might have helped.

Wyoming cattlemen have long opposed animal ID programs. Lawmakers will not return to Cheyenne until 2012.

Nebraska has published draft rules that could take effect as early as April 1. Cattle account for half of all agricultural sales in both Colorado and Nebraska and total more than $10 billion.

The Yellowstone problem was again demonstrated when initial tests from a five-year study of 100 elk in Ruby Valley came back with 12 animals positive for brucellosis.

Montana’s state veterinarian, Marty Zaluski, said the results were disappointing.

The Ruby Valley is adjacent to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where elk are infected.   

Montana ranchers fear the bison even more than the elk when it comes to Bang’s disease.  The state holds more than 500 head of bison that have left the park because of concern they will transmit the disease to cattle.

But the only proven transmission of brucellosis to cattle so far has been from the elk.  The five-year study is intended to produce information on how to best manage the risk elk pose to livestock.

The bison that migrated to state lands can be hunted down and killed, according to a federal judge.  And Montana’s governor has put a ban on bison entering Montana out of concern about brucellosis.

The Montana Senate, by wide margins, has sent bills to the House that would specify that the bison are ” a species requiring disease control” and another that would make the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Department subordinate to the Department of Livestock. 

And bison would not be able to roam free any where in Montana, except maybe on Indian reservations.

Dr. Bernard Bang, a Danish veterinarian, first isolated the cause of bovine brucellosis in 1897.

Cattle are tested for brucellosis at least one a year.  Young animals get the “calfhood” vaccination and an ear tattoo with a birth date.

© Food Safety News
  • adam kever

    This isn’t a “Yellowstone” brucellosis problem. Montana and Wyoming have issues that don’t relate to Yellowstone National Park and have originated in populations totaly independant of Yellowstones wildlife. It would also be very difficult for Yellowstones bison to transmitt brucellosis to cattle since they almost never come into contact with each other. Elk are another story, but don’t ask DOL. We could continue this further and get into the wolf debate as well. Especially if we were to focus upon elk as brucellosis carriers and Montanas push to eradicate predators based upon poor science and economy. But lets not open that can of worms.