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What Now?

Written by Dennis Sun
       The issue of brucellosis has haunted Wyoming’s cattle producers for what seems like forever. It is an issue that we all grew up with and continue to deal with to this day. The only part that has changed is that the cattle producers have eliminated the disease in their herds time and time again. Others have proven their herds are brucellosis free. We all wish that the wildlife would be as brucellosis free as our cattle, but we are talking about two different management plans and most important, reliable vaccines.
    This whole issue kind of leaves us scratching our heads. Everyone has a solution to the issue and is looking for ways to simplify the process. Those producers at “ground zero,” however, are the ones who really take the hit in their pocketbook. Where does it end?
    This week, we found out there’s another Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services (VS) plan to eradicate brucellosis from U.S. livestock herds.
    Wait a minute, didn’t I just say livestock producers have eradicated the disease from their herds time and time again? So, here we have another proposal on how to do it again. I personally believe cattle are free of the disease aside from those conditions where there’s commingling with elk under the wrong circumstances.
    APHIS, according to the concept paper, “is proposing to create a designated National Brucellosis Elimination Zone (NBEZ). The establishment of this zone would facilitate the elimination of brucellosis from livestock and provide clear, consistent control and surveillance guidance to livestock producers in the NBEZ, while simultaneously allowing the balance of United States to be considered free of bovine brucellosis.”
    Well, to me that means our federal government will throw in some money and ask our state to throw in a lot of money to develop split-state status for Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. They’re not calling it split state status as it differs from that term in its official capacity. APHIS-VS is proposing to define a “high risk zone” around the Greater Yellowstone Area for livestock. So, just like the wolf issue we get to argue over where to draw the boundaries for the zone.
    A “risk scoring system” will be used to assess herd risk based on producer-identified risks. Other risk levels will be defined based on other factors dealing with wildlife and elk feedgrounds. The first thing that I’d ask is if I’m in the risk zone with a high risk score, do I have to divulge that at the sale barn or video sale? Issues with marketing are at the heart of this issue. It’s one of the reasons we’ve historically avoided any sort of split state status. We’ve also been reluctant to divide the livestock industry.
    We are starting to hear horror stories where Nebraska tried to refuse a load of spayed heifers. We’ve also heard of management challenges in Sublette County, including delayed weaning of heifer calves awaiting testing. This is November and winter comes early in that area. If it weren’t for all the restrictions, I would guess that there are more damaging cattle diseases in the country than brucellosis. We have historically developed vaccines for problematic diseases and brought many under control. One has to wonder if there’s a bit of overreaction going on as it relates to brucellosis.
    I understand we have until the end of November to comment on this proposal. While it may include some good ideas, I think we’re going to need a little more time.
Dennis