From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 38 - December 19, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Brucellosis vaccination proposed for NER

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department's (WG&F) proposal to vaccinate elk on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson has been determined to be a compatible use of the refuge, according to a recently released federal document.

WG&F has proposed to conduct a brucellosis vaccination program for elk on the National Elk Refuge (NER). As part of that program, the agency would administer Strain 19 vaccine to elk calves and cows early in the feeding season before extensive exposure to field strain Brucella abortus occurs.

Brucellosis is a disease that causes abortion in ungulates and has been present on the refuge since at least 1930. The disease can also be transmitted to humans exposed to infected tissue or fluids. In humans, brucellosis is called undulant fever, and causes fever, chills, night sweats, body and joint pain, poor appetite and weakness.

If approved, implementation of the WG&F proposal will begin soon after winter feeding is initiated in the winter of 2002-2003, and would continue through the winter of 2003-2004 unless the record of decision for the NER and Grand Teton National Park Bison and Elk Management Plan environmental impact statement is signed before then. The decision on that EIS will then guide agency management actions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has prepared an environmental assessment on the WG&F's proposal, which is an interim measure until the EIS process is complete. Public comment on the interim vaccination program will be accepted until Jan. 15, 2003, with a decision expected by Jan. 27.

The WG&F proposal came about as the result of a settlement of a lawsuit between FWS and the state wildlife agency over the jurisdiction of a state vaccination program on federal land.

Supplemental feeding of elk has taken place since before the NER was established in 1912. During the past 20 years, an average of about 7,700 elk have been counted on NER feedlines. Supplemental feeding using alfalfa pellets generally begins in January or February and concludes in late March or early April, although this varies from year to year.

The concentration of elk using supplemental feed sources is believed to sustain the high seroprevalance of brucellosis in elk, estimated at 28 percent of elk cows using the NER. The NER is one of only two elk feedgrounds in Wyoming where elk are not vaccinated. Since 1985, WG&F has delivered about 53,000 doses of the Strain 19 vaccine on 21 WG&F elk feedgrounds.

The risk of transmission of brucellosis from elk to livestock is small, but not zero, according to the National Academy of Sciences. There is an aggressive vaccination and testing program in place for Wyoming livestock.

Comments on the WG&F proposal can be sent to National Elk Refuge, P.O. Box 510, Jackson, Wyo., 83001. Requests for additional information can be directed to NER at 307-733-9212. The environmental assessment is available on the FWS website at

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