Wyo Game & Fish highlights management and research effortsWritten by Jennifer Womack
The Roundup this week posed the question to Game and Fish spokesperson Eric Keszler.
“First,” says Keszler, “it’s important for people to know that we have a regular ongoing program called the Brucellosis Feedground Habitat Program.” Numerous agency personnel, he explains, are assigned to work with the program. “They’re doing a lot related to brucellosis and feedground issues, brucellosis surveillance to determine the prevalence of the disease in elk and how some of the projects might help change that.” Keszler says the group is responsible for administering Strain 19 vaccine to elk on the state’s feedgrounds and the National Elk Refuge.
“They’re doing a number of habitat improvement projects near feedgrounds to spread out elk or decrease the amount of time elk spend on the feedgrounds,” says Keszler.
Game and Fish personnel are also part of the Governor’s Brucellosis Task Force. “We developed brucellosis action management plans for each of the feedgrounds,” says Keszler of work that stemmed from the Task Force. “Each of these plans establishes ways to avoid mixing livestock and elk and reducing the prevalence of brucellosis.” Copies of the individual plans for each feedground are available on the agency’s website. Fencing, working with neighbors and in a few cases a test and removal program are some examples of plan elements.
Keszler says the test and removal project is an experimental endeavor underway on three feedgrounds — Muddy Creek, Fall Creek and Scab Creek. With three years of the five-year project complete, Keszler says it’s too early to tell if the project is proving effective. With three gathers behind them, 1,053 elk have been trapped with 582 adult females tested for the disease. “Of those 582,” says Keszler, “112 tested positive for brucellosis and were sent to slaughter.”
“In addition,” says Keszler, “we have a number of research projects ongoing.” One, he says, involves taking elk fetuses known to be free of brucellosis and placing them on feedgrounds to watch how area elk interact with the fetus. “One thing we learned is that predators can come in and clean out fetuses pretty quickly so we’ve changed our management on elk feedgrounds to not haze away predators,” he says. “Most of what we’re looking at is ravens,” he adds.
“Another study we’re doing is using a vaginal implant transmitter to study how cow elk move around as it relates to the feedground when they abort or give birth,” says Keszler. “We’re also looking at different feeding regimens to spread out the elk and reduce contact.”
Agency personnel, says Keszler, are also focusing their attention on western Park County. “We have seen an increase in brucellosis prevalence,” says Keszler, “We’ve typically thought of this disease as a feedground issue.” With no feedgrounds in the Cody area Keszler says, “We’re increasing our surveillance to get a better handle on whether it’s a one or two year spike or something that’s going to keep increasing.”
In other parts of the state Game and Fish continues to utilize hunter-gathered blood samples to monitor for the disease. Hunters drawing elk licenses in areas seven, three, five and six have been mailed brucellosis test kits for the 2008 hunting season.
In 2007 the Wyoming Game and Fish asked hunters in northeast Wyoming and parts of Central Wyoming to collect blood samples from the elk they harvested. In 2006 testing was carried out in the elk hunt areas straddling the Big Horn Mountains. In 2005 testing was carried out in the area spanning from south central Wyoming to central Wyoming. Hunters in several northwest Wyoming hunt areas have been asked to collect blood samples during at least two hunt years out of the past four.
Of brucellosis in general Keszler says, “This is a really tough problem and we haven’t found a ‘silver bullet’ yet.” Like folks who run livestock in Northwest Wyoming, wildlife managers also hope to see a more effective vaccine developed in the near future. “I think if we had an effective vaccine it would go a long way,” says Keszler.
Despite agency efforts Keszler says the reservoir of brucellosis within Yellowstone National Park is beyond their management reach. The agency does work with National Elk Refuge managers to address the disease and to host a hunting season. A hunting season is also held in a portion of Grand Teton National Park.