However, no Wyoming cattle are under brucellosis quarantine at this time, said Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Dr. Bob Meyer in Cheyenne.
Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that can cause ungulates such as elk and cattle to abort their calves. Animals can catch brucellosis from sniffing aborted calves.
The Cody elk herd comprises hunt areas 55, 56, 58-61 and 66. Its population objective is 5,600 elk, but the population estimate is 6,000 to 6,500. A growing population of elk is relocating on private land near cattle.
Cattle producers in Park County east of Wyo. 120 were added to a brucellosis Designated Surveillance Zone in April 2011. Most cattle of reproductive age originating from the DSA — which also covers Fremont, Sublette, Teton and Lincoln counties — must be tested for brucellosis before being sold. The DSA is an attempt to control the spread of the disease in domestic cattle.
To prevent elk commingling with cattle, the department has established population management goals. Those include adjusting seasons to maximize harvest numbers, working with landowners to improve or sustain hunter access and employing hunt management coordinators to promote elk hunting on private land. By reducing or disbursing elk on or near private land, it may be possible to reduce the spread of brucellosis to cattle, said a draft Cody brucellosis management action plan.
The department has also stepped up its brucellosis monitoring by encouraging, but not requiring, hunters to take blood and tissue samples for the Game and Fish, said Tim Woolley, Game and Fish wildlife management coordinator in Cody.
Based on samples taken in the fall of 2010 and January 2011, when the season was extended, 30 elk were seropositive (tested positive) in hunt areas 61-63. In those areas, 268 samples were taken from 133 elk.
An ungulate being seropositive does not confirm it has brucellosis, but it does raise concern, especially if the animal’s herd is infected with brucellosis, Meyer said.
From 1991 to 2004, the percentage of elk that tested seropositive ran between 1.4 and 4.3 percent. In the 2008, it spiked to 9.5 percent. The high, 17.2 percent, hit in 2009. In 2010, it was 10.9 percent.
The department, according to the draft, is not sure what caused the increase. But, when elk congregate, that may heighten seroprevalance. Wolves pushing elk to private land may be a factor too, said the brucellosis management action plan.
Eric Geving, a Meeteetse rancher, said he believes the wolves introduced in Yellowstone National Park in the mid 1990s are driving elk out of the mountains to private land where they can infect cattle.
“This problem is going to get worse,” Geving said.
Elk are finding sanctuary from wolves and other predators, including man, on lower-elevation land, said Chris Colligan, Greater Yellowstone Coalition wildlife advocate in Jackson on Monday.
Not much attention is given to the fact that elk are above population objectives. If elk are over objective, it would seem that wolves preying on elk wouldn’t be detrimental to overall population objectives, Colligan said.
Subdivisions will replace ranchers if stock growers can’t make a go of it. Wolves should have a wildlife classification so the department can manage them, Geving said.
To combat brucellosis, the department can cut elk numbers with hunting, Woolley said, but it cannot cull wolves with hunting at this time. “I have to kind of stick to the tools I’ve been given,” he said.
“Even if all the wolves go away, we will still have brucellosis in elk,” said Scott Werbelow, Cody game warden supervisor. “The No. 1 thing we can do is keep cattle and elk separated.”
The state and federal government are moving to delist wolves in Wyoming, but a rider attached to a bill in Congress to prevent further lawsuits against delisting did not pass, said Leanne Stevenson, director of the state of Wyoming Livestock Board.
Brucellosis is a Wyoming problem, but not on a national level, so funding for research to vaccinate elk is not a national priority, Werbelow said.
Tom Bales, a South Fork rancher, said grant writers for the Game and Fish Department should pursue grants to aid ranchers.
Ranchers should persuade legislators to continue funding brucellosis appropriations, Stevenson said.
Brucellosis management action plans have been finalized in the seven elk herds comprising the Jackson-Pinedale area, but one has not been finalized in Cody.
“It will be sometime this spring,” Woolley said.
Comments on the draft plan may be sent to the Wyoming Game and Fish, 2820 Highway 120, Cody, Wyo. 82414. The deadline is Feb. 28.