Brucellosis Yellowstone Park
August 29, 2008
How many veterinarians, cattlemen, defenders of wildlife, Elk Foundation members, hunters, and National Park lovers would like to see Brucellosis eradicated in the bison, elk and cattle in the United States? Go ahead, raise your hand. All of us. Good.
We have come close to achieving this goal in cattle more than once. But now, the biggest impediment to total eradication is the presence of disease in the elk and bison herds in Yellowstone Park. If these wild beasts were miraculously turned into cattle, privately owned, there is no doubt we collectively, would require that the herds be eradicated…slaughtered. Matter of fact, the law would demand it.
No one disputes the grandeur, tradition and emotional connection of these mighty beasts to the West, but they have now become sickened. Typhoid Marys of the Range. Beautiful Yellowstone Park now stands as a pustule disseminating disease like Old Faithful spewing its sulfurous water, every time an infected cow elk or buffalo drops an aborted fetus.
The argument that you can’t eradicate them all falls flat. You could if they were cows. Since 1934 the U.S. has depopulated hundreds of thousands of cows as part of the Brucellosis program. In the United Kingdom, 4.4 million cattle were slaughtered during their BSE eradication program. Yellowstone Park has 20,000 to 30,000 elk and 3,500 buffalo.
A wide variety of groups have a vested interest in solving the problem: Cattlemen, who bear the economic brunt of the Yellowstone mess; the USDA, who has made so much progress in cattle yet are now unable to remove the last wasp nest of infection; the Park Department, who is trying to balance the status quo; the defenders of wildlife, who hold elk and buffalo sacrosanct, plus urban tourists who don’t have a clue about the huge controversy occurring beneath the surface as they admire the magnificent herds of elk on the feed grounds in the winter.
The solution is simple. So simple we can’t see the forest for the trees. Those responsible, all of us, must take a giant step backwards to put the problem in perspective and be able to think beyond the next calving season, Secretary of Interior, or Sierra Club member. Buffalo and elk are not endangered species. Repeat after me… not endangered species. Yellowstone Park needs to remove the source of the Brucellosis infection the same way the USDA does in cattle. Then repopulate with healthy animals. So in ten years or so, the USDA might be able to say with some credibility, that the United States is Brucellosis Free. And all of us would say, “It’s about time.”
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