Bullet vaccination of brucellosis proposed

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 27, 2004
by WLJ
With winter fast approaching, the National Park Service (NPS) and Wyoming Fish and Game Department (WFGD) are putting some serious thought into a brucellosis vaccination program for free-roaming elk and bison herds.
Topping the list of available technology are "biobullets," a vaccine delivered from a pneumatic rifle. If this plan is approved, it will be the first vaccination of free-roaming bison in the Yellowstone National Park.
Biobullets are essentially brucellosis vaccine loaded in an air rifle delivery system. The U.S. Animal Health Agency has deemed this system to be the most reliable, humane, efficient and safe system currently available for delivery of vaccines to free-ranging animals. Because the vaccine is effective at a distance of about 100 feet, wildlife do not need to be caught and contained to vaccinate, which creates opportunity for more bison and elk vaccinations when they are gathered at their winter feeding grounds.
Al Nash, spokesperson for Yellowstone National Park, said they are looking at existing technology for the biobullets to see if they should start on the program. The Park Service plans to write an environmental impact statement (EIS) examining the use of biobullets and submitted a notice of intent to prepare an EIS to the Federal Register on August 3.
Biobullets are being considered by NPS under their Interagency Bison Management Plan. This plan calls on the park to develop a program to vaccinate bison against brucellosis, when a "safe and effective vaccine becomes available and when a method is developed to vaccinate bison remotely, that is without capturing or handling the bison." Biobullets meet the requirements of this interagency plan, but biologists say the drawback is they are not certain biobullets are completely effective, granted no vaccine is 100 percent effective for brucellosis.
With Wyoming's continual fight to regain brucellosis free status, state animal health officials have said they strongly support a biobullet vaccination program for wildlife. Wyoming state veterinarian Jim Logan said, "We have to realize that's just one tool in getting this thing cleaned up. It's not going to be a cure all."
In terms of efficacy of the vaccine, Logan said, "I think they are fairly effective and it's not bad at all. They're not the perfect answer to vaccination, but they're the best answer we have right now."
Since 1985, about 60,000 doses of vaccine have been loaded in biobullets and shot into elk in the Jackson Hole region of Wyoming.
"No one is going to convey this is the silver bullet," said Dean Clause, a WFGD biologist, Pinedale office. "But until other improvements are made, including a more effective vaccine or providing more room for elk in the winter, biobullets are one of the best ways to fight the spread of brucellosis."
NPS has decided to extend their comment period for accepting public comments on a biobullet program to October 2. Producers can access more information on the biobullet program, or submit comments, by contacting the Bison Ecology and Management Program, Yellowstone National Park, P. O. Box 168, Mammoth, WY 82190, or by calling 307/344-2505. — Sarah L. Swenson, WLJ Associate Editor