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Animal Health

WLSB, WGFD discuss brucellosis concerns

Greybull – In an April 4 meeting, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) and Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) met with producers in Greybull to discuss the implications of finding brucellosis in two elk in Hunt Area 40 this year.

“I have absolutely no intention of recommending to the WLSB that they change the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) or expand its boundaries,” said Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan at the meeting. “I have no intention of recommending to the board that they create extra rules for outside of the DSA.”

Brucellosis implications

With the discovery of brucellosis, Logan, however, also noted that the situation is serious and will be addressed by the WLSB.

“We need to prove to all of the other states, as well as to APHIS, that we are taking this finding seriously,” he explained. “We are going to have to do something proactive to assure ourselves and the rest of the world that we don’t have brucellosis in our cattle outside the DSA.”

“To say it basically, we have to keep our markets open,” commented Wyoming’s Assistant State Veterinarian Bob Meyer. “We are an exporting state.”

Meyer also noted that because Wyoming exports lots of cattle, it is important that producers take action soon.

“A lot of states are patient now, but they are going to be wondering what we are doing,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity now to do something that is least onerous for producers.”

Surveillance

Meyer noted that there are three primary methods of surveillance that have been used historically, all of which are based on blood sampling.

“The first part of surveillance, historically, has been surveillance at slaughter,” said Meyer. “The problem with that is, as we have seen a great success throughout the country in getting rid of brucellosis, USDA has started paring down that surveillance.”

USDA’s actions have effectively nearly eliminated slaughter surveillance, and Meyer said that the method can’t be relied on to catch brucellosis. 

Producers also test at the first point of concentration – or the markets.

“All the cattle in the DSA that go to any market, but primarily markets in Riverton, Worland and the two Billings markets, are bled and tested,” explained Meyer. “The WLSB pays the markets and their veterinarians for the tests, in conjunction with USDA. It also doesn’t cost the producer directly.”

Direct herd testing is also available, and Meyer said it occurs when producers express concern for their herds or have herd plans in place with the WLSB.

“For herds currently in the DSA with a herd plan, the WLSB pays testing costs,” said Meyer.

Managing elk

Brucellosis has not been found in cattle in the area, but the potential for commingling with elk has caused concern.

Alan Osterland, regional wildlife supervisor for the WGFD in Cody, said, “The Department tries to manage the elk herd in a herd unit. This is a highly migratory unit, and these areas are all pretty well interconnected.”

Osterlund also noted that weather largely drives the migration patterns of the animals.

The herd unit that migrates through Hunt Area 40 also utilizes Hunt Areas 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39. Osterland noted that population objectives for some areas are over objective, and the WGFD is taking steps to address that situation.

“It is a productive elk herd,” he explained. “We are proposing longer rifle hunting season in 2013 to try to reduce the population more toward objective and to increase sample sizes for blood and tissue samples for brucellosis.”

Distribution

“We have a lot of elk distribution data in the Big Horns,” continued Osterland. “We have two particular studies that utilized collaring elk and monitoring their movements, along with the wildlife observation system the department uses to track locations.”

“We know what the elk are doing fairly well,” he added.

From the studies, the WGFD knows that the elk move quite frequently through the area. 

“Depending on how the weather hits, the elk could end up in any of these five hunt areas,” Osterland said. 

A separate study looked at elk in the Garvin Basin in the north end of the Big Horns. Along with conventional and GPS collars several elk were also fitted with vaginal transmitters, which are discharged during calving. 

“In the two years of the study, the collared elk used the same area every year to calve,” Osterlund explained, noting that in order to prevent transmission of brucellosis from elk to cattle, commingling, particularly during high risk calving periods,  is important.

“We are really working hard to minimize commingling,” he said.

In looking at BLM allotment in combination with distribution data, the WGFD shows that many elk move higher into the range before cattle are turned out. 

Elk surveillance

In the future, WGFD plans to increase sampling of elk to get a better grasp on how prevalent brucellosis is in the area.

“We will continue monitoring the DSA and around the DSA,” said Osterland. “We will increase sample collections.”

In the DSA around Meeteetse, he noted that use of hunter management coordinators has aided in promoting harvest to get elk numbers to population objective levels.

“In the Big Horns, we are going to really ramp up sample collection,” Osterland said. 

Through the use of more check stations and more personnel in the field, Osterland said he hopes to increase the number of blood samples collected.

“We are also going to increase our efforts ot document distribution,” he added. “We have good information on elk distribution, but we are going to strive to get more.”

Public meeting

The Wyoming Livestock Board and Wyoming Game and Fish Department will be holding an additional meeting to discuss the discovery of brucellosis in elk in Hunt Area 40.

The meeting will be held in Sheridan on the Sheridan College Campus. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the C TEL Room of the Whitney Building.

Call the Wyoming Livestock Board at 307-672-5533 with any questions or for more information.

Saige Albert is managing 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..