Last Thursday and Friday I attended two town meetings on the Department of Livestock’s draft brucellosis action plan in Ennis and Dillon. State Veterinarian, Dr. Zaluski presented the plan to a crowd of about 50 people at the Ennis Public Library on Thursday, and Dr. Linfield, who has been contracted by the DOL to develop herd plans and work with producers in the Greater Yellowstone Area, presented the plan to a crowd of about 40 in the 4-H Building at the Dillon Fairgrounds.
Both portrayed the plan as a short-term, targeted surveillance plan to help us get our brucellosis Class Free status back. Both Dr. Zaluski and Dr. Linfield were careful to say that the plan is not split-state status and it is not a regionalization plan. Both estimated that it will take 12-18 months to get our status back with this plan. The lines for the three areas, Area 1 – Special Focus Area (elevated exposure potential); Area 2 – Assurance Area (minimal or no exposure potential); Area 3 – Area of No/Unlikely Exposure Potential, were drawn according to county and other political lines to encompass hunting districts that have had brucellosis-positive elk. (However, both failed to mention that the numbers are from a 20-year period and are not scientifically or statistically sound.) Apparently Idaho has used a similar three-area system for surveillance.
In Area 1, all producers will complete a mandatory risk assessment, have the option to create a herd plan, and every herd will have an entire herd test by Dec. 31, 2009. Zaluski said DOL will submit a report and a Class Free Application to APHIS in June of 2009, which APHIS will review in July, then we can hope to get a yes or a no, no earlier than December of 2009.
Both Zaluski and Linfield also discussed how this plan fits in with the long term efforts. One example that was discussed was APHIS’s idea to regionalize the GYA in all three states and call it the National Brucellosis Eradication Zone. Other efforts discussed were the Tri-State Veterinarian meetings, changes in the Federal Rules, and efforts with the U.S. Animal Health Association. Dr. Zaluski was on his way to the USAHA meeting in North Carolina on Friday which is why he was unable to attend the Dillon meeting.
Another component of the plan that applies to the whole state is the proposal to make official calfhood vaccination mandatory. Zaluski suggested that this step would bolster confidence in our trading partners. Zaluski pointed out that states like Pennsylvania and New York still require OCV for brucellosis in their state and they do not face the same risk as Montana does. Zaluski said that since most Montana producers already OCV, this shouldn’t create a burden. It will also be consistent with what Idaho does and Wyoming is considering it as well.
During the comment times of both meetings, many people commented about the lack of an end-date for the plan. “This plan is called short term, but nothing in this plan looks short term,” said John Scully at the Ennis meeting.
Zaluski said that some testing and surveillance requirements would likely continue after Montana regains its Class Free status. “Other states are demanding additional testing,” he said.
Bob Sitz commented that the plan is going to be a problem for most of the producers in Madison County because they live in Area 2 or 3 and summer their herds in Area 1. Testing would most likely have to happen at the home ranch where the ranchers have the facilities to get the cattle in, but which requirements would they have to meet, the requirements of the area where the cattle were, or the home ranch?
Sitz also suggested that the DOL emphasize testing the high risk animals such as young, open cows that. He said Trans Ova buys most of its cows from Montana and tests 50,000 head of open 3-6 year olds, and has only found one case from Montana, the index cow from the Bridger Herd. Sitz suggested that the state rely on this type of testing instead of the onerous testing of entire herds even if there is no reason to suspect they might have brucellosis. He said later, “All this testing out in the country is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Keep it simple.” At the meeting Zaluski said the Trans Ova surveillance is “not sufficient.”
Many of the comments echoed the opinion that producers are doing everything they can and yet are bearing the burden of this mess while the wildlife agencies do nothing. One questions very pointedly asked: What is FWP going to do about the elk?
In Ennis, Pat Flowers, Director of FWP Region 3 explained the departments plan to spend nearly $100,000 on enhanced surveillance and testing efforts for elk using hunter gathered samples. A member of the audience asked: “What’s the plan after you find out where all the brucellosis is?”
Flowers responded that the money is only planned for increased surveillance.
There was a lot of talk about the problem stemming from feedgrounds in Wyoming, rather than the bison in Yellowstone National Park. (Several feedgrounds permits were recently renewed by the Forest Service for 20 years). Kurt Ault of FWP said, “The brucellosis problem is due to the 25 feedlots in Wyoming with seropositive rate of 27-70%, even higher than the Yellowstone National Park bison.”
The audience also addressed questions about finding an effective vaccine for all species.Neil Anderson of FWP told producers not to hold their breaths for an effective elk vaccine. “There won’t be an effective elk vaccine in my lifetime.”
Producers also asked what Yellowstone National Park’s plans to do to control brucellosis in bison. Zaluski explained that the park has offered draft versions of disease suppression plans and the remote vaccination Environmental Impact Statement is due out soon.
John Crumley commented, “This [plan] is pretty hard to swallow as the pool of infection seems to get larger. You’re asking these people to do some hard things but at the same time you, or we as a whole, are letting more bison roam farther into Montana.”
Rachel Endecott asked Zaluski in Ennis what the budget for this plan would be and what the Department’s personnel situation is. Zaluski explained that the budget for the plan is somewhere near $2 million for one year of testing and hiring two veterinarians and one program manager to implement the plan. DOL is seeking funding sources on the state and federal level so the department can implement the plan at no or little cost to producers, though no funding has been secured yet. Zaluksi commented that he is working to “make sure producers are not priced out of their business” by this plan.
In Dillon, Linfield said that the plan probably won’t have any real affect on producers until next fall.
Linfield discussed how Zaluski has said repeatedly that the only alternative to this plan is doing nothing and that won’t work to get our status back. In Dillon, Bryan Mussard commented that he’d rather do nothing and not regain our status because now that we are Class A, herds that are found to be infected are not required to depopulate but can test out instead.
In Dillon, Meg Smith asked Linfield why the DOL can’t force FWP to make more effort to deal with diseased elk when the DOL has statutory authority over disease in the state. After the meeting in Dillon, Bryan Mussard commented that the DOL is telling producers what to do but is asking FWP.
Overall, it seems that producers are very worried that this plan will take pressure off the wildlife agencies and place the burden squarely on their own shoulders.