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Animal Health

Hunters on reservation to test elk this season

Written by Christy Hemken
Lander – At the late September meeting of the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team in Lander, testing elk for brucellosis was once more a main topic of discussion.
    This time topics related to testing on the Wind River Indian Reservation and the conclusion of the four-year rotation of testing throughout the state that was spurred by a false positive several years ago in the Campbell County area.
    “There has not been any testing on Wind River in the past, and there’s a hole there,” noted Pat Hnilcka of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) who works with the reservation.
    The current Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) includes the western part of Fremont County, west of the reservation border.  
    This year the tribes have received 200 sample kits from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD). “The Tribal Fish and Game is in the process of distributing those to elk hunters, and hopefully we’ll get results back this year,” said Hnilcka, adding they hope to continue participation in testing into the future and this year they’ve targeted the hunters they think are mostly likely to return the tests.
    Each year around 500 to 600 elk are harvested from the reservation under the supervision of the Tribal Fish and Game.
    One reason for the testing on the reservation is because of the question mark on how much elk travel between the Wind River and Pinedale side of the mountain range. “We don’t know how much movement there is on and off the reservation, but there’s no doubt there’s commingling with the herd up by Dubois and on the Pinedale side,” said Hnilcka. “To what degree, we’re not sure. We have very little knowledge of what the elk are doing in the Wind River Range.”
    Because testing in the herd near Dubois resulted in low rates of seroprevalance, Hnilcka said he expects the same situation on the reservation. “They’re free ranging on native range, with no feed ground situation, but until we do the sampling we’re not sure what it’s going to be,” he added.
    If there are a significant number of positives on the reservation, Hnilcka says they’re in the process of developing an overall plan for how to deal with them. The tribal councils have already adopted the Wyoming Livestock Board’s Chapter 2 Brucellosis Rules and Chapter 15 Trichomoniasis Rules for the cattle on the reservation, which number around 22,000 head, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Range Manager Ray Nation.
    “Around 50 percent of those cattle intermingle with elk at different times throughout the year,” noted Nation. “We try to do a pretty good job of making sure the permittees comply with state rules, and most of them are pretty good about following the rules.”
    Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan said there’s been quite a bit of surveillance on the cattle on the reservation, with the required change of ownership and movement tests.
    USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarian John Duncan said USDA has a very effective brucellosis surveillance mechanism in place. “All test-eligible cattle that go to slaughter at USDA or state-inspected plants get tested. That same surveillance is applied to cows from the Wind River Reservation. There are no outlets on the reservation, so they come back off and get the same surveillance all the other cattle in Wyoming get through slaughter surveillance,” he said. “Not one in the 10 years I’ve been with APHIS has a slaughter trace come out of the reservation.”
    Also related to brucellosis, Nation said that ultimately questions about economics and brucellosis delayed obtaining bison from a quarantine herd in Montana. He said the tribe is still looking into the matter.
    Related to brucellosis testing overall, Nation said, “We have a good working relationship with Dr. Logan and the brand inspectors, and we use them quite a bit and it’s going well.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..