Governors: Hold off on ‘brucellosis zone’Written by Jennifer Womack
The governors voiced their concerns in a May 6 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Governors Otter and Freudenthal say that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposal does not address the root problem of brucellosis transmission in the Greater Yellowstone Area – wildlife.
“NBEZ seems to simply ‘fence’ the wildlife and livestock together, with no real wildlife management being required within the National Parks and on the National Elk Refuge,” they wrote. “While we have no interest in federal management of wildlife populations in our states, we are all too aware of the ‘hands-off’ management policies of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
“More concerning still is our perspective that the efforts of USDA-APHIS to address our states’ collective and individual concerns, at least thus far, have seemed superficial and non-engaging,” the Governors wrote. “To be blunt, the NBEZ process has been a top-down, formulaic federal effort.”
“I cheered when I saw the letter,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. As an overall proposal he says his group has opposed NBEZ, but furthermore is disappointed by the manner in which it’s been approached.
“Some components of the document have some merit, but the process has been totally frustrating,” says Magagna. “It was released last fall saying they would receive stakeholder input in November and move forward and initiate rulemaking on parts of it in May. It’s May and I understand they’re about to release some rules, but the stakeholder input opportunity has never taken place.”
In April Magagna says the Governor’s Brucellosis Task Force was told there would be public meetings in the near future, but those too he says have never come to fruition. He says the agency said they’d have meetings in Casper and Jackson and were asked by the task force to hold hearings in Pinedale and Cody, the areas potentially most impacted by the proposed document.
USDA-APHIS spokesperson Lyndsay Cole says the public hearings have been placed on hold pending a meeting between APHIS officials and state-level livestock and wildlife officials on June 18 in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Following that gathering it’s anticipated the meeting dates will be announced in conjunction with the Federal Register Notice regarding NBEZ.
“We have all emphasized — the Governor, the Congressional Delegation, WSGA, the task force and our counterparts in other states — that rather than going to rulemaking and leaving us commenting on proposed rules that they should engage in upfront dialog,” says Magagna. “That way we could develop a plan everyone could get behind, but our requests seem to be falling on deaf ears.”
Inherent in the NBEZ proposal, say the Governors, is the idea that by setting aside this zone, USDA-APHIS can therefore declare the rest of the nation “free” of the disease and “walk away from the issue forever, with little likelihood or need for the agency to ever have to truly and fully address the problem going forward.”
Sublette County rancher and Wyoming Livestock Board member Albert Sommers says he was glad to see the Governors take action. “I am not a proponent of NBEZ. I think it has potentially serious ramifications for those of us over here.” He says he’s in favor of anything the Governors can do to slow the process down.
“Wyoming is in a better position to take care of this issue without APHIS creating a zone,” says Sommers. “It’s a zone of convenience for them. It’s so they can say they’re rid of brucellosis.” He says the issue should be handed back over to regulation by the states with the exception of brucellosis as it relates to milk.
As a result of NBEZ, the Governors say, “brucellosis, in a national and even regional sense, will simply fade from the public conscience with the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana being left to their own devices to deal with yet another unfunded federal mandate and the livestock producers in the Greater Yellowstone Area being forever handicapped at the marketplace not because of any actual persistence of brucellosis in their cattle herds, but because of some federally contrived ‘zone.’ Certainly, the markets already have provided some ‘zoning’ of sorts, but NBEZ seems to perpetually cement the area as somehow being tainted, with USDA-APHIS having no real, ongoing responsibilities in terms of funding or management.”
The Governors ask Secretary Vilsack to withhold action on the NBEZ proposal until they have had an opportunity to convey their preferred course forward.
“I hope if the Governors come up with a plan that they seek the input of those affected by it,” says Sommers.
“Our states know all too well the hardships of brucellosis,” the Governors say. “While we very much appreciate the nearly century-long efforts of USDA-APHIS to eradicate the disease, the NBEZ proposal seems ill-conceived and hastily contrived when measured against the agency’s historic diligence in seeking the elimination of brucellosis.”