MISSOULA, Mont.—Leaders from both the wildlife and livestock camps see two main obstacles to solving the brucellosis problem in the Yellowstone area. The first is simply getting everyone to the table to work collaboratively. Second, no one agency or person is in charge.
Overcoming these barriers was the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s primary goal in hosting and facilitating the recent Greater Yellowstone Area Brucellosis Workshop.
The educational workshop, held in Billings, Mont., Dec. 8-9, brought together representatives from state and federal wildlife and agricultural agencies, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Cattlemen’s Association, Idaho Cattle Association, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Yellowstone National Park, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and others.
“I would like to commend the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for putting all of this together. The gathering of stakeholders we have here is monumental in terms of geography and the constituencies represented,” said Errol Rice, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.
Presenters at the workshop offered their latest data on brucellosis, or Bang’s disease, which originally found its way to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem via infected livestock. Today, the area’s elk and bison are the nation’s last known reservoirs of the contagious disease. Transmission is possible wherever these species share space or co-mingle with cattle. Infected animals commonly abort fetuses and display arthritic symptoms. When livestock tests positive for brucellosis, a litany of regulations, restrictions and mandated control measures prove costly for beef producers within the affected state.
Solving this difficult problem has broad economic and social implications across the three states within the greater Yellowstone region. Most workshop participants agreed overarching policy and direction is needed at both state and federal levels.
“The Elk Foundation wants, and we believe healthy habitat can support, a coexistence of wildlife and livestock. There’s no easy way to achieve that, but we’re hopeful that the workshop will revitalize the spirit of cooperation needed to reach solutions,” said Jack Blackwell, vice president of lands and conservation for RMEF.
Minutes from the workshop are being formally drafted for approval by attendees. Next steps will include identifying an entity to take the lead. Most workshop participants favored reviving strong leadership within the dormant Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.4 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.