Montana Stockgrowers Association Comments on Removal of Brucella abortus

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Montana Stockgrowers Association Comments on Removal of Brucella abortus

Helena, MT – The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is proposing updates to the select agents and toxins registration list, as required every two years by the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002. APHIS has completed its fourth biannual review and is proposing to remove certain select agents that no longer need to be regulated as select agents, Brucella abortus (brucellosis) is included in the list. The Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) is in support of the removal of B. abortus as a select agent that no longer needs to be regulated under this list.

MSGA and its members have significant and long-standing interest in the management of Brucella abortus, due mainly to the high rate of exposure in wildlife in and around Yellowstone National Park (YNP).  As many are aware, this disease is highly regulated in domestic cattle and bison and has broad implications for the marketing of cattle and genetics from Montana. The regulation of B. abortus by USDA APHIS has led to the implementation of strict testing and management protocols for cattle in an area surrounding YNP known as the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA).

MSGA does support the proposed removal of Brucella abortus as a select agent that no longer needs to be regulated under this list. MSGA agrees that by removing B. abortus from select agent regulations, will allow for additional research into vaccines for brucellosis.  “Our organization sees this as an essential step in the development of new or enhanced vaccines to control this disease in cattle and wildlife in the GYA,” says Gene Curry, President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “The current regulations and restrictions have nearly eliminated the efforts to further vaccine research and other aspects of B. abortus control.”

Due to the extent this disease impacts our state, MSGA recommends APHIS moving forward to remove Brucella abortus from this select agents and toxin registration list.


The Montana Stockgrowers Association, a non-profit organization representing nearly 2,500 members, strives to serve, protect and advance the economic, political, environmental and cultural interests of cattle producers, the largest sector of Montana’s number one industry – agriculture.




Montana Livestock Groups Submit Bison Comments

brucellosisMontana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Association of State Grazing Districts and the Montana Public Lands Council, submitted comments regarding the Montana FWP’s DRAFT Environmental Impact Statement Bison Conservation and Management in Montana document. The 90 day comment period closed on September 11th. FWP has stated a record of decision is expected by early next year.

Our organizations comments were reflective of our membership policies regarding bison management. Some of the general concerns regarding a potential bison relocation included:

  1. Damages to fences by bison that compromise landowner attempts at good grazing management
  2. Private property owners expected to bear the brunt of the expenses
  3. Wild bison would be direct forage competitors with livestock, which would force cattle producers to reduce their herds if bison populations were present on their lands
  4. Federal and state grazing allotments may be put in jeopardy by the relocation of bison to these lands, negatively affecting Montana’s livestock industry

Our members have clearly stated in our policy that we are opposed to bison relocation, but we are committed to being active participants in future negotiations with all entities involved. Some of our critical concerns to any bison relocation include:

  1. The use of private lands without the landowner’s permission
  2. Any relocation must follow strict guidelines:
    • No diseased bison will be relocated anywhere in Montana, other than a state and federally approved quarantine facility or a packing plant for immediate processing
    • Before any other relocation, DFWP shall develop and adopt a comprehensive statewide management plan that is entirely consistent with 87-1-216, MCA

In reviewing the proposed alternatives, our organizations supported Alternative 1: No Action. In reviewing the entire document, there were numerous concerns regarding a number of sections in the Draft EIS.

Starting with the Genetics section, there appeared to be a recommendation to have a bison population of at least 1,000 animals for genetic purposes. Our comments stated potential herds with these types of population numbers would need extremely large landscapes and nutritional requirements that would lead to significant impacts on neighboring family ranches.

On the section of Brucellosis Management, disease management is one of the livestock industry’s most serious concerns. In the Bison/Agriculture Interactions section, federal grazing permits are referenced. Our organizations have experience with groups seeking to reduce or eliminate these grazing permits to allow more habitat for wildlife. Our concerns stated that many ranchers could be faced with significant legal costs to defend their permits over such challenges.

In the section of Costs to Bison Management, our organizations see some deficiencies it the realization of actual costs to the Department to manage a potential bison population. One of the major concerns among our members is the Department would engage in a restoration project and then have a shortage of funds to adequately run the program. Our organizations also recommend that if a bison proposal moves forward, it be conducted in an area where there is local support.

The Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Association of State Grazing Districts and the Montana Public Lands Council will continue to engage in all facets of this decision making process and keep the members informed on any developments.

Livestock Groups Consider MOU for Brucellosis Management | Podcast

PodcastThe National Public Lands Council is hosting their annual meeting this week in Cody, Wyoming. Several Montana ranchers are taking advantage of the close proximity to attend the conference and meeting with public land users from across the country. Montana Stockgrowers and Montana Public Lands Council has several representatives at the meeting and we’ll be catching up later with Jay Bodner to learn more about the big topics of discussion coming out of the event.

Ranchers representing the Montana Public Lands Council in Cody this week include Vicki Olson of Malta and MPLC President, John and Joe Helle from Dillon, George Trischman from Sheridan and Johnny Schultz

Earlier, Montana Stockgrowers took part in a Tri-State Meeting prior to the PLC conference in Cody, to meet with representatives from our neighboring states of Idaho and Wyoming. MSGA Executive Vice President, Errol Rice, shares more about the topics discussed on the Stockgrowers podcast. As part of the meeting, the three states agreed to encourage state and federal agencies to create a working committee that will work toward better solutions for managing brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

Click here to listen to today’s podcast on a new page.

Public Comment Period and Meetings on Bison Management

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There are a number of bison planning efforts underway that impact the state of Montana and so MSGA is providing a brief update on these planning documents and how members can become involved. The first effort is between the National Park Service (NPS) and the State of Montana, who are serving as joint lead agencies in the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a plan to manage Yellowstone-area bison. As stated in their documents, the goal is to minimizing brucellosis transmission between these wild bison and livestock to the extent practicable.

NPS and State of Montana will be hosting a series of three public scoping open houses in Bozeman, Gardiner, and West Yellowstone, Montana. The open houses will have an identical format and agenda. The meetings will be held in Bozeman on June 2 at the Hilton Garden Inn, Gardiner on June 3 at the Gardiner School, and West Yellowstone on June 4 at the Holiday Inn. Each meeting will run from 6 to 8 p.m. and have an identical agenda.

This document planning process is in the scoping phase, which is the first opportunity to provide comments. The comment deadline is June 15, 2015. Comments can be submitted online at NPS Planning, Environment & Public Comment or by mail to:

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Bison Management Plan EIS
PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

There are currently six preliminary draft alternatives, ranging from No Action alternative to year-round bison tolerance. This EIS is designed to update the 2001 Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP).

MSGA is currently reviewing these draft alternatives and will provide talking points to members and submit comments to the NPS. Even though this is the first phase in the planning process, MSGA has been active in communication with our Congressional delegation, APHIS and MT state agencies over impacts of bison to our members.

In addition, MT FWP is finalizing a Statewide Bison Conservation and Management EIS.  FWP has stated the development of this EIS is to address the potential for bison restoration in Montana. There have been four draft alternatives developed, ranging from No Action to bison being restored on public lands. FWP plans to release a draft in late May, followed by a 90-day comment period. MSGA, along with a number of members, attended a series of meeting held by FWP to discuss the development of this EIS. MSGA will once again be very involved in commenting on this document and providing talking points to members, upon its release.

Click here to visit the NPS website and learn more about Yellowstone’s Bison Management Plans.

Department of Livestock lifts vaccination requirements on imported cattle

Montana Department of Livestock DOLThe Department of Livestock no longer requires that female cattle imported into Montana be vaccinated against brucellosis.

The rule change became effective late last December after a 30 day public comment period and two public meetings.

After detecting two Montana herds affected with brucellosis late last year, state veterinarian Marty Zaluski acknowledged that now might seem like a strange time to lift this requirement.   However, he states this change fits right in with the state’s regional approach for managing the disease in cattle.

“We’ve spent the last 6 years proving that the risk of brucellosis is limited to areas with infected wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” said Zaluski.

The Department states that the rule is no longer necessary for much of the nation, which was declared Brucellosis Class Free in 2008 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The support for this change from the livestock community was widespread and included veterinarians, market owners, feedlot operators and ranchers.

“We were pleased that people took the time to provide us feedback on this proposed change,” Zaluski said.  “They wanted fewer hoops to jump through when importing cattle.”

Additional regulations make the costs of ranching greater, Zaluski added, and if those additional requirements do not protect Montana, then they should be reviewed and eliminated if possible.

Sexually intact female cattle traveling from states that have been brucellosis free for 10 years or more will no longer need to be vaccinated before traveling to Montana.

Brucellosis vaccination is required in the four Montana counties of Beaverhead, Gallatin, Madison and Park where brucellosis exists in wildlife.

Elk-Brucellosis Discussion in Bozeman January 17

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks logoMontana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will host a half-day discussion on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman, Saturday, Jan. 17, on topics related to the transmission of brucellosis from elk to cattle in southwestern Montana.

FWP has assembled a diverse group of experts to discuss brucellosis in elk, disease genetics, and livestock investigation techniques and processes. A panel discussion among presenters will be facilitated by Dr. Mike Mitchell, leader of the University of Montana’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit.

“FWP has heard from some constituents about providing more information on the science that identifies elk as one possible source of brucellosis infection in cattle in parts of southwestern Montana,” said Jeff Hagener, director of FWP in Helena. “In response, we’ve assembled this presentation to illustrate that science.”

The session is designed to describe, inform and discuss data addressing the potential for some elk in southwestern Montana to infect livestock with brucellosis, a disease that can cause some pregnant bison, elk and domestic cattle to abort their first calf.

The talks are open to the public and are set for 8:30 a.m.—Noon on Jan. 17 at 101 Gaines Hall on the MSU campus. For a full agenda visit FWP online at; click “Fish & Wildlife”, then click “Elk“.

Public Meetings on Brucellosis Vaccination Set for Billings, Three Forks

Montana Department of Livestock DOLThe Montana Department of Livestock will hold public meetings in Billings and Three Forks on a proposed rule that would remove brucellosis vaccination requirements for cattle imported into Montana from states, provinces and territories that have been brucellosis-free for at least 10 years.

The proposal, said state veterinarian Dr. Marty Zaluski, is based on negligible risk of importing the disease from brucellosis-free areas.

“While this would be a change from the way we’ve done things in the past, the simple fact is that 46 states have been brucellosis-free for at least 10 years or more, and there is negligible risk of importing the disease from those states,” Zaluski said.

Zaluski said the proposal will benefit producers, who imported 151,690 head of cattle into Montana in 2013, by reducing regulation and vaccination costs, and eliminating the need for upon-arrival quarantines.

“The proposed rule will not impact our efforts on brucellosis surveillance and science-based prevention in areas of known risk in southwestern Montana,” Zaluski said.

Vaccination requirements for the four counties (Beaverhead, Gallatin, Madison and Park) within the state’s Designated Surveillance Area, where all female cattle and bison over four months of age must be vaccinated, would remain unchanged.

The meetings are scheduled for 1 p.m. on November 13 at Public Auction Yards (PAYS) in Billings, and for 10 a.m. on November 14 at Headwaters Livestock Auction in Three Forks.

Public comment on the proposed rule, which closes at 5 p.m. on November 19, may be submitted at the meetings, or via email at, U.S. postal mail at Montana Department of Livestock, P.O. Box 202001, Helena, MT 59610-2001, or fax at 406/444-1929.

The proposed rule can be viewed here.

United States Department of Agriculture

Walsh cosponsors bill to ‘beef up’ livestock industry

(The following is a press release from the office of Senator John Walsh) Montana ranchers applaud Senator’s leadership to improve resources for cattle ranching families

(US SENATE)—Senator John Walsh last week cosponsored legislation that improves and updates Agriculture Department resources for Montana ranchers.

The American Livestock Protection and Ranching Opportunity Act establishes a Livestock Disease Initiative and authorizes $5 million annually to study bovine brucellosis and other livestock diseases.  Walsh’s bill also prohibits the import of foreign beef until the USDA certifies the exporting country is totally free of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD).

“Montana ranchers produce the highest quality beef in the world,” Walsh said.  “This bill protects local ranchers by investing in brucellosis prevention and emphasizing country of origin labeling.  We value our agriculture producers, they are stewards to the land in our great state, and our public policy should reflect that.”

Montana ranchers applaud Walsh’s leadership on this bill:

“We applaud Senator Walsh’s work to address some major issues our members face on a daily basis,” said Errol Rice, Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “We look forward to working with Senator Walsh and take on brucellosis and increase disaster support for Montana’s ranchers.” 

“Montana Farmers Union appreciates Senator Walsh’s sponsorship of a bill that addresses the concerns and contributions of Montana’s livestock producers,” said Montana Farmers Union President Alan Merrill.  “We value the Senator’s multi-pronged approach that supports livestock disease research, protects Montana markets by maintaining our foot and mouth disease-free status, and provides a mechanism to make adjustments to the Livestock Forage Program.  In addition, MFU members have long supported country-of-original labeling (COOL) and welcome the Senator Walsh’s strong statement of support.” 

“The most probable result will be that a FMD epidemic will crash the rural economy and seriously jeopardize this country’s economic recovery,” said Gilles Stockton, board member of Montana Cattlemen’s Association. “The proposition that we would import meat from counties with active FMD is just crazy. I commend Senator Walsh for being proactive on this issue and I hope his colleagues see reason and support this bill.”

The legislation also assists ranchers with feed costs in the Greater Yellowstone Area when they are under government-mandated quarantines for brucellosis, requires USDA to use most recent and accurate market prices in the Livestock Indemnity Program, and provides price adjustments in the Livestock Forage Program for high-value feed to help ranchers through drought situations.

Walsh is the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation on an Agriculture Committee.

Comment Period Opens on DSA Boundary Adjustment; Public Meeting Set for July 2

DSA-map2_closeupPublic comment on expanding the state’s Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) for brucellosis to include a 365-square mile chunk of land between Norris and Three Forks (see map) opened late last week.

The Montana Board of Livestock at its last meeting approved putting the proposal out for review after learning that 10 of 60 elk in the corresponding elk hunting district (HD311) recently tested positive for exposure to brucellosis. State veterinarian Dr. Marty Zaluski said brucellosis-positive elk were not previously known to exist in the area, which is home to about 50 cattle producers and 12,000 head of cattle.

Created in 2010 with extensive input from the livestock industry and USDA-APHIS, the four-county (Beaverhead, Gallatin, Madison and Park) DSA is designed to prevent the spread of brucellosis and protect the marketability of Montana cattle. Cattle within the DSA are subject to additional testing, vaccination and identification requirements.

If approved, the boundary adjustment would be the third since the DSA was implemented in January 2010. Other adjustments occurred when brucellosis-positive elk where found in 2011 and 2012 on the western edge of the DSA in Beaverhead County.

The department will host a public meeting at 10 a.m. on July 2 at Headwaters Livestock Auction in Three Forks to discuss the proposal. Public comment will be accepted at the meeting, or can be submitted via email at or via US postal mail at Christian Mackay, 301 N. Roberts St., Room 308, P.O. Box 202001, Helena, MT 59620-2001.

The public comment period closes July 12.

Board of Livestock Indefinitely Tables Action on Bison Environmental Assessment

Montana Department of Livestock DOLThis week the Board of Livestock met in Helena for their May meeting. One of the major items on the agenda was to review proposals from Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and the Department of Livestock (DOL) on an Environmental Assessment that would allow more tolerance of Yellowstone bison on its western boundary.

Click here to listen to this podcast on SoundCloud.

Since the beginning of the Bison Environmental Assessment, MSGA has submitted extensive written comments supporting a no action alternative. The Board of Livestock (BOL), during its three previous meetings in January, March and now May, have also discussed this Environmental Assessment in great detail. In particular, there was an addendum to the EA, which allowed for a population objective that would trigger whether or not Yellowstone bison could come into the state of Montana.

We were very pleased today that the BOL voted unanimously to table indefinitely the subject of the bison EA. While MSGA was very grateful that the DOL, FWP and the Governor’s office were very transparent and allowed us to have adequate input into this proposal and hear our suggestions quite seriously, we still are not able to support the proposal as it was written.

MSGA has continued a close working relationship with the DOL on issues that are important to ranchers across the state of Montana. Moving forward we will be working with the state agencies on a future IBMP plan and encourage ranchers across the state to work with MSGA to provide their input.

Brucellosis in the state of Montana is not going to go away anytime soon. The big call to action for the ranching community and the members of MSGA is to think critically about how to manage the complexity of this issue of brucellosis as it persists in Yellowstone bison, migratory elk, and how it affects our ability to raise commercial cattle in southwestern Montana.

In the next several months and years to come, the state of Montana is going to be engaging in a full-fledged Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to rewrite the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) from its current version, which was adopted in 2000. Under this process, Governor Bullock and the administration will be taking the lead on what the inputs to this plan will look like from the state of Montana’s perspective. MSGA certainly looks forward to engaging proactively in the process and getting input from our stakeholders at all levels so that we can provide credible information into how to best develop a management plan or bison as relates to the state of Montana.

One of the most immediate and best ways to engage in this conversation is to attend MSGA committee meetings, in particular our Cattle Health subcommittee, which will be meeting in Miles City on June 14. Our team will be having a very comprehensive discussion about brucellosis in bison and elk, as well as our own designated surveillance area for the state of Montana. Ranchers may also send or e-mail your comments to MSGA office and let us know your thoughts on how we can best develop a more comprehensive management plan for the state of Montana at all levels of the brucellosis debate.

For more information on attending our June policy meetings, you can go to the website,, and find details on our Mid Year meeting in Miles City. We can also be reached by phone at (406) 442-3420.

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