Idaho fights to keep brucellosis-free status

Sep 4, 2009
Idaho fights to keep brucellosis-free status

Dr. Bill Barton, Idaho’s state veterinarian, expects to conduct two meetings in Idaho this month to help ensure the state remains brucellosis-free despite bordering Yellowstone National Park—the last U.S. reservoir of the disease that can cause spontaneous abortions in livestock, wild elk and bison.

“It’s still a serious issue,” Barton said, adding he hopes to meet with producers in eastern Idaho and the Treasure Valley or Magic Valley in mid-September as Idaho, Wyoming and Montana cooperate with the feds to keep brucellosis in check.

Veterinarians, cattle associations, state wildlife agencies, governors’ offices in the three states, and US- DA are striving to prevent Yellowstone elk and buffalo from infecting livestock grazing near the national park. “Currently, Idaho is brucellosis-free as are the other 49 states,” Barton said, noting the Gem State lost that status in January 2006 when it was downgraded to Class A, but regained it in July 2007. “The last probably six or eight known cases of brucellosis in livestock epidemiologically have been linked to acquiring the disease from infected wildlife.”

Scheduling the Idaho meetings will be contingent on the release of a U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) concept paper designed to formulate a nationwide brucellosis management plan that integrates core principles agreed upon at recent APHIS meetings, including one at Idaho Falls, ID, in June. “APHIS recognizes there is definitely a need for change in the way brucellosis is handled in all the nation. We’re working with the states to develop the best plan,” said Lyndsay Cole, an

APHIS public affairs specialist in Fort Collins, CO. “The states wanted more ownership in the process.”

Brian Oakey, Idaho’s deputy agriculture director, said Idaho and Montana have traced most recent brucellosis infections in domestic livestock to wild elk, but bison also are carriers “and certainly pose a threat to cattle.”

Idaho requires mandatory calf vaccinations against brucellosis and prohibits feeding big game animals, primarily elk, but also bison. APHIS provides some money for surveillance work and to help ranchers build eight-foot fences around feeding areas. The Idaho Fish and Game Department also captures and tests congregated elk. “For the most part, it’s been a successful experience, but we’re on this merry-goround,” Oakey said. “The threat is still there. It’s certainly one of Idaho’s highest priorities.”

Idaho, Wyoming and Montana want to assist APHIS in eradicating brucellosis, which he described as a bacterial disease mainly spread through the sloughing off of afterbirth or aborted premature calves.

“It’s a huge financial impact. We’re very concerned about the spread of the disease,” Oakey said, emphasizing that Idaho wants to protect its ranching industry, which has gone to great lengths itself to minimize the disease’s proliferation.

If Idaho were to lose its brucellosis-free status, Oakey stressed, markets would seize up for the state’s ranchers, who would be severely affected, forced to pay for more tests, and restricted on where they could ship cattle. “We certainly look forward to the day this disease is eradicated.” —Mark Mendiola, WLJ correspondent