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September 06, 2011 8:55 am

Game and Fish discusses Cody elk brucellosis plan

Written by Gib Mathers

A bull elk is pictured in Yellowstone National Park last fall. Last year, brucellosis was discovered in the Meeteetse area, caused by commingling among cattle and migrating elk. A bull elk is pictured in Yellowstone National Park last fall. Last year, brucellosis was discovered in the Meeteetse area, caused by commingling among cattle and migrating elk. Tribune photo by Kevin Kinzley

Because brucellosis was discovered in Meeteetse area cattle and bison last year, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is drafting a Brucellosis Management Action Plan for the Cody elk herd unit.

The Cody herd is comprised of elk hunt areas 55, 56, 58-61 and 66.

Public comments must be mailed by Sept. 30.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that can cause ungulates like elk and cattle to abort their calves. Animals can catch brucellosis from coming into contact with aborted calves lying on the ground.

The most likely means for humans to be infected is by consuming contaminated milk or milk products, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All of Park County is in the brucellosis surveillance zone. Since October 2010, 30 cattle and bison in Park County have been infected with brucellosis from elk, said Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Dr. Bob Meyer.

Elk brucellosis monitoring began in the Cody area in 1991, said Tim Woolley, Game and Fish wildlife management coordinator in Cody.

Between 1991 and 2004, brucellosis seropositives (positive test of blood) ranged from 0 to 4 percent in the Cody elk herd. After 2004, brucellosis seropositives increased to 9 percent for three years and peaked at 17 percent in 2009. In 2010, it was at 11 percent, said the draft BMAP.

Brucellosis seropositives are a good indicator that the animal has been exposed to and infected with brucellosis, Meyer said.

The elk population objective is 5,600 elk, but the estimate now puts the Cody herd at 6,000 to 6,600 elk. Recruitment in the Cody herd runs from 11 calves per 100 cows to 33 calves per 100 cows, Woolley said.

Between 2005 and 2007, brucellosis management plans were developed for all seven elk herds that rely on feed grounds in the winter, said the draft.

A lot of the management plan will entail how to slow the transmission of the disease, Woolley said.

Elk winter feed grounds, primarily located in the Jackson and Pinedale areas, bring elk into close proximity and so they are more likely to transmit the disease, like children spreading germs in a school classroom, Woolley said.

The Cody herd is different because winters are milder and winter range is more accessible for elk. So strategies to prevent transmission must be approached differently, the draft said.

The Cody population management strategy proposes working with the public and landowners to manage population objectives, set hunting seasons to maximize objectives, improve hunter access and use hunt coordinators to increase and manage elk harvest on private lands in some areas.

The strategy also proposes preventing elk-cattle commingling, increasing elk brucellosis surveillance, improving elk habitat when feasible, acquiring easements when possible, changing cattle operations and developing an effective cattle vaccine to prevent brucellosis infection, the draft said.

Wyoming lost its brucellosis-free status in 2004 when 31 cattle in Sublette County were discovered to be infected with brucellosis, although the state is currently classified as free of the disease. It is believed elk caused the infection.

Send comments to 2820 Highway 120, Cody, Wyo., 82414, Att. Cody Elk BMAP. The plan can be viewed and downloaded from the department’s website at

http://gf.state.wy.us/wildlife/Brucellosis/index.asp.

Brucellosis test kits

Last year, the department sent thousands of brucellosis test kits to hunters, Woolley said.

It was a voluntary program to obtain blood. This year the department will do the same.

Hunters will be encouraged to take blood samples again this fall.

“If we can get these filled with blood and shipped, it will really help us,” Woolley said.

Hunters can take blood samples, but removing lymph nodes to test for brucellosis or chronic wasting disease may require a trained biologist, Meyer said.

If the elk has not bled-out, slicing the jugular vein in the neck can fill the test tube. Or slice the heart. Either way, make sure to have the test tube ready before cutting. “Scoop it out, put the lid back on and you’re good,” Meyer said.

The blood must be kept warm and not allowed to freeze, Woolley said.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link September 07, 2011 7:03 am posted by Dewey

    Just keep in mind where the elk got brucellosis from in the first place: it was imported along with the alien exotic cattle from Texas c.1880 that are now usurping wildlife range in a vain attempt to make some money at the elk's expense. Elk we need. Cattle ranching in harsh semi-arid climate on marginal land has never been sound economics , and truth be told it requires generous subsidies of money , tax abatement, manpower and resources in order for high elevation cattle to turn a dime in profit. Take away the subsidies and level the market so ranchers have to pay their own way, and pretty soon there won't be a brucellosis problem with northwest Wyoming cattle because there won't be any cattle...realistically.

    It's time to quit subsidizing ranching ,especially in this budget climate. Raise grazing fees on public lands to fair market value if nothing else. Ditto water. No more free predator control or special interest tax breaks for unprofitable agriculture.

    You'all keep clamoring for " market solutions" and " git de gubbamint off my back ". Well then --- subsidized western ranching becomes the perfect place to apply those notions. Now. Can you stand on your own , Mr. Rancher ? If so , do so. And take care of your cows 24/7/365. It's called " cowboying".

    The the brucellosis problem will take care of itself . Like any other wildlife epidemic it will run its course and the stronger animals who survive will deliver a better elk herd , with the help of their complementary wolves, of course.

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