Worried about draft brucellosis action plan
November 14, 2008
As a producer I am worried about Montana’s draft brucellosis action plan. In my opinion it is very expensive, especially for ranchers in Area 1, and in the end will have little or no effect on what we need to accomplish.
First, it seems that no one in charge wants to talk about eliminating the disease. Nothing in this plan is aimed at going after the source. Nearly two billion dollars has been spent so far on brucellosis eradication in cattle, but we have done nothing to go after the only remaining reservoir of brucellosis in wildlife. The ranchers in Area 1 are being penalized for living where they do. It is not their fault that the wildlife managing agencies have allowed brucellosis to spread in the wildlife. The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is not mentioned in this plan to help find a solution. The Department of Livestock (DOL) has authority over all diseases in all species in Montana and should be able to gain the help of FWP. Without addressing the wildlife aspect, all we are doing is drawing a zone which allows the DOL and FWP to persist in placing the burden on the rancher. Livestock producers cannot continue to bear the cost of this disease and should not be held responsible for fighting the brucellosis reservoir without just compensation when the American public owns the wildlife and most elk management areas in Montana are over their objective levels.
Second, this is a statewide issue, not something that can easily be split into zones or areas. Although Dr. Zaluski, our state vet, has said this is not a split-state status plan, APHIS and others have talked about regionalizing the Greater Yellowstone Area in one form or another. The draft brucellosis action plan draws lines that separate producers in different areas of the state without accounting for the movement of cattle into and out of different areas of the state for grazing. My family, along with most other producers, lives in Area 2 or 3 but our summer pasture is in Area 1. Some ranchers live in Area 1 and summer elsewhere. Eighty to 90 percent of producers potentially affected by brucellosis-infected wildlife in Area 1 will test their cattle in Areas 2 or 3 since most people don’t have facilities in Area 1. If another case of brucellosis is found, it will most likely be in Areas 2 or 3 where the cattle are tested. Other states veterinarians will not care where the brucellosis may or may not have been contracted. They will only care where the case was discovered. They make the rules when it comes to shipping cattle into their state”our state does not make the requirements for them. Producers in the entire state of Montana will be penalized because of brucellosis-infected wildlife.
Third, there is no end date for this proposal. If we do all of this testing, up to 200,000 head of cattle which live in and use this area, and find nothing, the testing requirements will continue on a long-term basis in Area 1. This line in the sand does not go away and in some ways devalues cattle. If you sell on video or otherwise, you will have additional costs and discrimination just because of where you graze. If you add up the costs of adult vaccinations, whole herd testing (which could cost up to $30 per head) and”if you sell breeding stock”a required second test (and health papers only good for 30 days) to ship out of state, we are talking about an unwieldy burden on producers with no end in sight.
Finally, this plan fails to take into account the testing that is already going on. There is a company that buys three to six-year-old open cows and tests them for many diseases including brucellosis. These three to six-year-old and older cows are the higher risk cows and this company found the first case of brucellosis in Montana. This a kind of free surveillance program because they buy thousands of open cows from Montana and test at their own expense. Also, all cows that go to slaughter throughout the U.S. are already tested for brucellosis through a card test.
The draft brucellosis action plan is not supported by the majority of producers in Areas 1 and 2. We need to go to APHIS and do what is minimally required and acceptable to get our status back. Let’s do risk assessments, voluntary testing of cattle facing high risk, and develop voluntary herd plans. Let’s not have split zones in this proposal. These provisions will likely lead to much more cooperation amongst producers.
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If we as producers do not stand together on major issues such as this (we are only 2% of the population), we have no voice. Everyone in Montana needs to understand the issues and make the decision to do what is right for the livestock industry”be it wolves, prairie dogs, CAFO, stream access, sage grouse, taxes, the Forest Service”or whatever issue affects you. Every one of us needs to be united on all issues or our political officials cannot help us.
If you are interested in learning more, read the DOL’s brucellosis action plan, read the Interagency Bison Management Plan and read “Practical Solutions, a New Vision for Managing Yellowstone Bison” developed by the Defenders of Wildlife, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wildlife Federation, National Parks Conservation Assoc., and the National Wildlife Federation. Take time to learn about the recent Department of Interior proposals to introduce wild bison into the Red Rocks Refuge and the CMR game range. If you folks out there think that only producers near Yellowstone are affected by the threat of brucellosis, consider that bison could be transplanted to a reservation or public land near you. There is more to this than you may realize. Please attend the Board of Livestock meeting, November 17 & 18 in Helena. If you have any questions, please call me at (406) 581-6448.
bob sitz and his family own sitz angus, a seedstock production ranch with 85 years in the business, headquartered in harrison and dillon, mt.