Buffer zone could be hard hit to Montana's cattle industry

By MARY A. HELLER, For The Prairie Star

Saturday, September 29, 2007 1:05 PM MDT

HELENA, Mont. - Montana's neighbor-ing state veterinarians recently shared their concerns over the risk management proposal of regionalizing the Greater Yellowstone Area.

“Does that mean you're extending the area of a brucellosis zone? How is that helping?” asked Dr. Susan Keller of North Dakota. Keller said she believes that a proposed buffer zone is only a temporary fix and not a long-term solution for wildlife or livestock.

North Dakota does not recognize split-state status due to monitoring problems of the cattle coming from the state in this class. “Who monitors that?” Keller asked. “We need assurance that there are no violations with the movement of breeding cattle across that state.”

This concern was also addressed by Dr. Sam Holland, South Dakota state veterinarian. “It's hard enough with the state geographical boundaries as they are now,” he said. “A split-state status multiplies this difficulty and puts the cattle producers of South Dakota at risk.”

Holland also stressed that South Dakota requires individual identification for breeding cattle but Montana doesn't. “You have to ask yourself, ‘is the risk worth the benefit?' Without proper animal identification, monitoring is impossible,” he said, noting this was a problem South Dakota faced with the brucellosis outbreak in Montana this summer.

“I got a call from Montana telling me that some cattle were exposed to the Bridger herd and had come into South Dakota. They wanted me to locate and test those cows,” Holland explained, noting that by the time he was informed of the outbreak and called the cattle buyer, he was told the only identification on the suspected cows was the dealer's brand.


When asked about the brands from Montana that could help identify the cattle, Holland said the cattle buyer told him “I've been buying hundreds of cattle with that brand on them for years, which ones do you want?”

Holland stressed his frustration on the matter. “There was no proper animal identification and no proof of ownership, so it was impossible to track them down and conduct any tests. I had to drop the investigation and this put my state at risk.”

However, according to the Montana Department of Agriculture, regionalizing the Greater Yellowstone Area would only be effective in the case of a second brucellosis finding.

“I would like to clarify that regionalization would only happen if we get another confirmed case, and then only if it is supported by the industry affected by the potential loss of brucellosis class-free status,” said Dr. Martin Zaluski, the newly-hired Montana state veterinarian. “Without another case, I do not foresee circumstances where splitting the state would be necessary and it would be difficult to convince me otherwise.”

Enhancing brucellosis vaccination and surveillance in livestock around the park is a related, but separate issue, added Zaluski.

“All three states bordering the park have experienced cases of brucellosis in the last three years, so I support pro-active measures to minimize the likelihood of brucellosis infecting our cattle, and at the same time detect the disease as quickly as possible should a case occur.”

His ultimate goal is to find a long-term solution to the brucellosis issue. He said he would like to see the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners and the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucel-losis Committee focus on park over-population issues and eventual eradication of the disease from park bison.

State veterinarian Dr. Greg Ledbetter of Idaho also said regionalization may send a message to other countries, a problem even greater than a state-to-state issue. “What if Mexico demands the same thing?” Ledbetter asked. “We want the whole state free so there is a message to everyone that this is a serious disease and it is being dealt with.”

Diluting the attention away from the real problem of brucellosis infected bison in the Greater Yellowstone Area and the elk feed grounds in Wyoming is not helping to achieve the eradication of the disease, said Ledbetter. Ledbetter also voiced his concern about other producers not in the buffer zone getting the idea that it is not their issue.

If regionalization were put into place, ranchers within the buffer zone would possibly be faced with additional costs and frustrations of their breeding cattle put under an extensive brucellosis testing program.

Would this mean the rest of the state would be in a class-free region, and those cattle producers in this area wouldn't have to worry about testing? This regionalization could cause discrimination between cattle producers, which is a common concern among the neighboring state veterinarians.

“You're pitting neighbor against neighbor,” said Dr. Walter Cook, Wyoming state veterinarian. “By segregating a part of the state you lose the public and political will of the people to get to the heart of the problem.”

Cook believes that there currently is an over-all consensus among ranchers, animal scientists, and most politicians in the states bordering Yellowstone National Park that brucellosis is a serious problem in wildlife and livestock. Cook said disease eradication is the primary focus of his plan. He said he fears people in the far corners of the states, removed from the Greater Yellowstone Area, may see the brucellosis problem as being more regionalized if the split-state status were to be in place and get the sense that “this is their problem, not ours.”

However, Miles City Livestock Commis-sion Company co-owner Rob Fraser recognizes the effect it could have on all Montana cattle producers.

“Bangs reactors in Park County shouldn't determine the fate of producers in Custer County, but if this goes through, it will affect all of us,” he said.

Fraser said he is concerned about the costs involved in testing, restrictions placed on cattle movement, and the loss of production sales. “People everywhere in Montana need to understand that this is a federal problem affecting every cattle producer in the state,” he said. “Educating the public on all levels regarding the seriousness of the problems that a proposed buffer zone would cause is a step in the right direction.”



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