From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 39 - December 23, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Brucellosis group completes recommendations

by Cat Urbigkit

The Governor's Brucellosis Task Force met Wednesday in Lander to finalize its work on creating a report complete with recommendations for addressing this disease issue in Wyoming. The result of their diligent efforts throughout the year is a list of 28 recommendations.

The most contentious issue for the group involves the 22 state-administered elk feedgrounds. The group's official recommendation advises against closure of any elk feedgrounds in the foreseeable future. On the date the votes on this recommendation were cast, the vote was 10-7, with two members absent. But since that time, Cathy Purves of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, who serves on the task force, said she was confused about what the group was voting on, so in reality, her vote was against the recommendation. Pinedale outfitter Terry Pollard had been unable to attend the meeting where the vote was taken, so his vote wasn't tallied at all, he said. Pollard is outspoken in his opposition to closure of the feedgrounds. Regardless of these changes to the vote, the majority of the group still opposes closure of the feedgrounds in the foreseeable future.

A majority report was no on the closure of elk feedground in the foreseeable future, but a majority of members (12-4) also agreed that on a rotating five-year cycle, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, with public input, should evaluate herd unit population objectives and evaluate opportunities to modify or phase out each elk feedground as it proceeds in implementing proposed brucellosis management action plans. The four votes against this recommendation came from members of the task force who reside in Sublette County, where the majority of the feedgrounds are located.

The group's top priority recommendation is for the creation of brucellosis management action plans for western Wyoming elk herd units. These plans would, in a site-specific manner, address brucellosis issues for elk, cattle and wild bison, on various land ownerships. These BMAPs would be developed in a cooperative manner between involved parties and natural resource agencies. The first such BMAP is currently being created and will address the Pinedale elk herd unit.

Robert Hoskins, an environmentalist from Crowheart, was scathing is his assessment of the task force's recommendations. He said the problem is that the group is treating the state's wildlife as if they were livestock.

"That very process created the very problem we're trying to solve," Hoskins said. "If we didn't have feedgrounds, we wouldn't have brucellosis. It's as simple as that."

The notion of having a test-and-removal program for elk is ludicrous, according to Hoskins.

"I personally think it's a non-starter when it hits the public," Hoskins said. "I'm not willing to see elk shot for no reason."

Hoskins said the report has "no balance whatsoever," has "no scientific credibility," and urged the group to recommend closure of the elk feedgrounds.

Meredith Taylor of the Wyoming Outdoor Council was as critical as Hoskins. She said it appears the report has a lot of giving on the side of wildlife and "not much giving on the side of agriculture."

She said, "It's taking the wild out of wildlife," and suggested the group was trying to agriculturalize wildlife."

Taylor said she couldn't believe her ears when the group discussed constructing an eight-foot tall, five-mile long fence along the Muddy Creek feedgrounds "to block a migration corridor." The fence would hold the elk on public lands near the feedground and off private land.

She called the proposal "unbelievable."

"Our feedgrounds are the black eye of wildlife management in this state," Taylor said.

Taylor proposed a list of solutions, including fencing livestock on their own feedlines on private lands so that elk can roam wherever they want.

"That would put the responsibility on the livestock owner and then the elk can disperse," she said.

Taylor also suggested that land management agencies are ignoring a huge concern, that of "throwing livestock out onto public land in the spring," and that this should be reconsidered.

She also suggested a pilot project to examine the phasing out of elk feedgrounds, allowing elk to wander back into their ancestral winter habitats, a suggestion also made by Lloyd Dorsey of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Dorsey was also critical of the group's efforts to not use the phrase "test and slaughter," substituting it with "test and removal." Ironically, it's the environmental groups that have used this tactic successfully in the past, calling elk feedgrounds "elk feedlots."

The task force will present its report and final recommendations to Governor Dave Freudenthal on Jan. 5.

Station review

For Wyoming to gain its brucellosis class-free status under federal regulation, the state must go 12 months without a new case of brucellosis being discovered in any of the state's cattle herds, under federal regulations. In addition, the state must undergo a federal station review by a panel of brucellosis experts from outside the state's borders.

Bret Combs of USDA Veterinary Services told the state's brucellosis coordination task force that although state officials submitted the request for a station review last summer, the review team has not yet been put together.

Combs said although Wyoming is not yet scheduled for review, his office is pushing for that to happen as quickly as possible.

Combs also told the group that he had requested an internal meeting of USDA Veterinary Services personnel to "to look at what we were going to require of Wyoming" for it to achieve brucellosis class-free status once again.

This internal agency discussion was slated to occur via telephone conference call last week, to be followed by a meeting in Fort Collins, Colo., on Jan. 24.

With the recent destruction of a Teton County cattle herd, the last herd found with the disease, the time clock for brucellosis class-free status began. Wyoming may not petition for brucellosis class-free status for 12 months from the date the last infected herd was destroyed. That means that Wyoming will be eligible to file the petition for a status change on Dec. 3, 2005.

Bioterrorism agent

Earlier this month, Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas sent a letter to the heads of the U.S. Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture explaining recent brucellosis problems in Wyoming.

"More scientific research needs to be done to help find ways to fight this disease and permanently remove it from Wyoming," Thomas wrote. "The University of Wyoming and Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory have conducted considerable research, but are limited in the amount they can do in the future."

Thomas continued: "Their research is restricted because the USDA and U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services list the bacteria which causes brucellosis in Wyoming, 'brucella abortus' as a select agent. This designation prevents open-air research of the disease and effectively ends brucellosis research. It is vitally important that this open-air brucellosis research be allowed to continue in Wyoming.

"To allow this, I ask that you either remove brucella abortus from the select agent list or develop a protocol to allow open-air research using brucella abortus," Thomas wrote. "This is an important and necessary step in eradicating brucellosis once and for all."

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