Jerry Diemer is an associate regional director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service based in Fort Collins, Colo. He said the proposed National Brucellosis Elimination Zone has the potential to help …
Declaring the United States — except for the region just outside Yellowstone National Park — free of brucellosis could be a key to finally eradicating the disease, a federal APHIS official told Wyoming legislators meeting in Powell on Wednesday.
Jerry Diemer is an associate regional director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service based in Fort Collins, Colo. He said the proposed National Brucellosis Elimination Zone has the potential to help livestock producers in affected areas if it funnels money into research on vaccines, disease transmission and other concerns.
APHIS officials propose drawing a zone in the Greater Yellowstone Area outside Yellowstone Park. Livestock producers inside the zone would have to meet strict regulations on brucellosis testing and vaccination before they could move or sell cattle outside the zone.
“We would like to focus our efforts, as well as the funding that APHIS has, on this area,” Diemer said. “It's going to take a lot of money. We all know that. Money is extremely hard to come by.”
APHIS allocated $2.5 million to brucellosis in fiscal year 2008, he said, and leaders want to know if that's wise spending.
Diemer said the proposal may have had a rocky start when officials in President Bush's administration put it on the fast track for publication in the Federal Register. He said that publication was intended only to begin a public comment session, but after public outcry it has now been put off.
“A lot of heads are just going to have to sit around the table and discuss this,” he said. “This issue is bigger than any one of us.”
Brucellosis, a bacterial infection, can cause pregnant elk, cattle and bison to abort fetuses. It persists in Yellowstone's elk and bison herds and is sometimes passed to area livestock.
It can cause undulant fever in people, including those who drink unpasteurized milk. Veterinarians, ranchers or hunters who have blood-to-blood contact with livestock or wildlife are also at risk. Livestock vaccines are not 100-percent effective. Wyoming is currently officially brucellosis-free, although the disease was detected in a Sublette County herd last summer. Wyoming could lose its class-free status if another case is found before October 2010. Montana lost its class-free status in 2008 after two cases were found in cattle. Testing determined brucellosis likely came from elk in those cases.
Frank Galey, dean of the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and chairman of a governor's interagency commission appointed to study the disease, said earlier Wednesday that some commission members are wary the brucellosis-free zone could have a darker side, if the promised research money dries up or officials don't follow through with offered help.
“It does worry us as a team if the feds can just wall us off and walk,” Galey said.
An option, split-state status, could exempt parts of a state where brucellosis occurs from other areas, allowing ranchers in disease-free areas to operate without extra regulations, Diemer said. But the cumbersome application process, which can take up to a year to complete, deters many state officials, he said.
Wyoming State Veterinarian Walter Cook said he considered split-state status last summer after the disease turned up in Sublette County, but he shied away from the complicated application. He said Wyoming's current extra surveillance in high risk areas “ought to be enough.” Noting that Gov. Dave Freudenthal wrote a letter with concerns over the proposed zone, Cook said Montana officials seem more receptive.
The APHIS proposal includes a tiered risk system, which Diemer described as assigning a risk score to ranchers based on a number of factors.
“Some land owners never see elk,” he said, and would be at lower risk. “Some see them every day.”
Diemer said the proposal also includes surveillance, possibly similar to the regulations already in place in part of Wyoming, including western Park County. It might include electronic animal identification for cattle originating inside the zone, “another area that's big concern,” he said. “ID is an issue.”
APHIS officials want to avoid placing a stigma on cattle herds inside the proposed zone, he said, but “movement controls are critical. It could be what you have now is sufficient.”