Split-state status still wrong for Montana cattle industry

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jul 3, 2008
Split-state status still wrong for Montana cattle industry
In light of Montana’s recent loss of brucellosis Class Free status, the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) would like to reiterate its opposition to split-state status as a means for managing brucellosis in Montana. Members adopted policy opposing regionalization for brucellosis in December 2007 at the MSGA Annual Convention after the first brucellosis case was discovered in a herd near Bridger.
Ranchers have worked hard to effectively manage brucellosis. Earlier this year, for the first time ever, the entire U.S. achieved Class Free status. The cattle industry has spent almost 75 years and nearly $2 billion to eradicate brucellosis from our cattle. Now, our herds are facing increased threats from infected wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA).
Our organization has a number of concerns about split-state status. Let’s look at the facts:
Montana could not have completed an application for split-state status in time to prevent the entire state from losing Class Free status. Establishing regional classifications within a state is a complex and detailed process requiring resources for monitoring and controlling cattle movements, which Montana lacks.
Even if Montana were to make application, there is no guarantee that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service would accept a proposal for split-state status since this type of scenario has never been used to manage brucellosis.
Several state veterinarians have declared that they will not accept different classifications for Montana and will apply the lower classification restrictions to all cattle exported to their state.
Split-state status does not eradicate the disease nor does it prevent transmission of brucellosis from wildlife to livestock.
Aside from our practical concerns about the implementation, maintenance and enforcement of two classification areas in Montana, philosophically, MSGA does not support geographically isolating ranchers according to problems they experience. We believe that the industry’s integrity and future depends on uniting producers against common threats. Sacrificing some for the short-term gain of others only serves to weaken these goals and the industry’s foundation. Cattle producers must remain united on all fronts against brucellosis to protect the livelihood, stability and heritage of our industry.
As we have learned with other natural resource and wildlife issues, what begins as a small problem for several producers soon expands to impact the entire state. Our primary concern is that if split-state status is implemented, there will be less incentive for Montanans to work together to attain the ultimate goal: complete eradication of brucellosis in the GYA.
MSGA feels that instead of wasting limited resources on a proposal that will not prevent cattle ranchers from facing increased testing and restrictions, Montana should focus on regaining Class Free status for the entire state. Instead of trying to divide the cattle industry with impractical and imprudent ideas like split-state status, Gov. Schweitzer needs to take decisive steps that help Montana ranchers deal with diseased wildlife. A first step would be signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee, which is responsible for developing tools and criteria to eliminate brucellosis in GYA bison and elk. The MOU was signed by both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior, and has been sitting on Schweitzer’s desk for three years. Schweitzer’s failure to sign this MOU has left disease management in limbo and allowed brucellosis-infected wildlife to contaminate Montana’s cattle.
Split-state status it is not a viable, long-term solution to our brucellosis problem. We cannot afford to waste any more time or resources on so-called "quick fixes." We must work together to regain our Class Free status and rid the GYA of brucellosis, once and for all. — Steve Roth, President, Montana Stockgrowers Association
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