Federal officials said it would allow cattle ranchers in other areas of the United States to continue operating without restriction while officials addressed brucellosis infection in areas just outside the Greater Yellowstone Area, including Park …
State officials planning own brucellosis regulationsWyoming officials are taking on a federal plan to place the area around Yellowstone National Park in a special brucellosis-elimination zone.Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the veterinary services division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed a “national brucellosis elimination zone” in January. The area surrounding Yellowstone in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho would become a disease-management zone where cattle producers would face special testing requirements.
Federal officials said it would allow cattle ranchers in other areas of the United States to continue operating without restriction while officials addressed brucellosis infection in areas just outside the Greater Yellowstone Area, including Park County.
“Consideration of the GYA as an entire ecosystem should drive this planning process with development of potential strategies to eliminate brucellosis from bison and elk in the GYA,” officials say repeatedly in a “concept paper” on the brucellosis zone.
But Wyoming officials are wary of the proposal, saying officials could renege on funding and research promises once the Yellowstone area, the only remaining reservoir of brucellosis in the United States, is placed under special regulation. They also say cattle from the “hot zone” could be stigmatized and unappealing to potential buyers.
Idaho and Wyoming officials want to draw boundaries and set rules for disease testing. In Wyoming, several counties — including western Park County — are already under special disease surveillance regulations.
The Wyoming USDA field office census shows 42,000 cattle in Park County in 2009.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter last month blasted the federal proposal in a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, saying the USDA would be able to “walk away from the issue forever” without getting rid of the disease.
Frank Galey, chairman of a state interagency brucellosis task force and dean of the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture, echoed those fears in a meeting with Wyoming legislators this spring in Powell.
“It does worry us as a team if they can wall us off and walk,” Galey said.
Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that infects wildlife, including elk and bison, as well as domestic cattle. It causes pregnant animals to abort and is transmitted through blood contact or by animals coming in contact with aborted fetuses. It can cause undulant fever in humans, often hunters who field dress game or ranchers during calving.
Vaccines have limited, if any, effect on wildlife and are not 100-percent effective on cattle. Speakers at the Powell meeting stressed the importance of research to develop more effective vaccines, and this week officials broke ground for an addition to the State Veterinary Laboratory that will devote research to brucellosis vaccines.
Plague, tularemia and other wildlife diseases also will be studied at the $24.9 million UW facility. Another priority, Galey said, is developing a fast and efficient test for the disease. It now takes four tests on each animal to begin to determine if it has brucellosis.
In Powell, Galey said the task force asked for testing on people to determine whether they had been exposed to the disease. He said 216 people with some contact to potential areas of infection were tested and 31 showed positive results, including National Park Service employees.
“So maybe they should be more interested than they are,” Galey said.
Wyoming and Idaho have both lost then regained their disease-free designations in recent years. Wyoming is on the cusp of losing it again after an infection last year. Montana lost its brucellosis-free status in 2008 and officials there have begun the process of reclaiming disease-free status.
APHIS spokeswoman Lyndsay Cole said her agency was amenable to the states' plan since the government's goal was the same as the Yellowstone states: Declare cattle brucellosis-free nationwide, while guarding against transmissions of the disease from wildlife.
The two states' alternative has not been presented to livestock groups or ranchers in the Yellowstone region, said Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan, who this week replaced former State Vet Walter Cook. He said more information should come after federal and state officials finalize a set of “core principles” for brucellosis, possibly this week.