Brucellosis confirmed in Montana cattle herd

Well surprise, brucellosis has actually shown up in Montana livestock, and it didn’t come from bison. The news article says there is a possible link to elk. Well duh! Elk passed brucellosis to cattle in Wyoming and Idaho, and both states lost their “brucellosis free status.” I predicted it for years, while they were yelling about bison. In the Montana case, however, elk are only a possibility.

The article makes is sound like a catastrophe has happened, but that seems negotiable. In Wyoming the state’s loss of brucellosis-free status generated some newspaper attention and a governor’s task force which basically advocated doing nothing effective about the brucellosis in the state’s elk population. They tried an elk test and slaughter program at winter elk feedlot near Pinedale. My earlier story on that: Test and Slaughter a failure.

In Idaho, it barely made the news. I actually thought Idaho had regained its brucellosis free status about 6 months ago. Now we learn from this article that it hasn’t. That’s how big a deal it is in Idaho.

Story by Matthew Brown. AP (in numerous newspapers). Brucellosis confirmed in Montana cattle herd.

Today, was the first in a long time there was a news article about brucellosis in Idaho. Meetings set to discuss battle against brucellosis. Idaho Statesman staff.

Note: Baker, Montana isn’t anywhere near the Greater Yellowstone. It is a few miles west of the North Dakota border!

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  1. Buffaloed Avatar

    I told you so.

    Actually, this has been known for a long time and has been one of the arguments for years of the BFC. ELK HAVE BRUCELLOSIS TOO! This is not surprising at all to me.

    The location surprises me more but I am not very familiar with that part of the world. I thought it would come from the Madison Valley because the monitoring that I have heard of in elk has been in this area.

    I love elk, I love deer, I love wolves, I love buffalo, I love all wildlife and in my mind this is not a big deal other than the obvious effects that it will have on the WILDlife that I love. My feeling is that wildlife will pay the price for this because of the buildup by Montana that this would happen. In Idaho, my home state, there has been no wild and crazy response to the loss of its brucellosis free status. In fact, I don’t know anyone that even knows what brucellosis even is in southwest Idaho.

    I think that the livestock interests will ramp up their arguments that Yellowstone wildlife should be managed by APHIS and brucellosis should be eliminated by any means neccesary so that their precious cattle won’t get this dreaded disease that could reduce milk production and cause the cows to abort their first calves.

    You know what happens next. “Let’s gather all the wildlife in Yellowstone and conduct test and slaughter so that we can get rid of brucellosis from the Yellowstone ecosystem”. HELL NO! I won’t let it happen, even if I have to get beat up by a bully cop.

    I’m angry but it’s late and I had a nice strong drink because I feel this is the worst news for Yellowstone wildlife I’ve heard in a while. We were right but they are going to twist this into some weird justification for killing the animals that eat “their cattle’s grass” or eating their cattle. This is bad and they will use this to their advantage because they own the media and the government.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    There is no doubt politicians will use this if they can to seize control of Yellowstone’s wildlife, but there are some questions?

    1. Can this plausibly be traced to Yellowstone?
    2. Will they try to depopulate (slaughter) most of the elk in the Greater Yellowstone.

    1. Regarding the first, it may not matter. In politics simply asserting a connection between two things enough times with no evidence whatsoever can work. It depends on the level of the politicians and the demeanor of the media.

    It is so good that blogs have developed to sometimes keep the MSM in check.

    2. Here they are overreaching and could turn sportsmen against them. I think that’s one reason why Wyoming kept emphasizing wolves, to divert hunters from the real management issues.

  3. Layton Avatar

    Just for a little clarification here — what exactly are the ramifications of losing a “brucellosis free” status??

    Does it make it so that they can’t sell cattle, or they have to be examined, or what??


  4. SAP Avatar

    Layton – just off the top of my head, from memory, which is sometimes suspect:

    I think there will be testing and quarantine restrictions on livestock that are reproductively intact — meaning bulls, cows, and intact heifers.

    I think that the feeder calf industry will be largely unaffected, because they deal in a lot of steers and — believe it or not! — spayed heifers.

    Unfortunately, there are lots of bull producers in Montana, too — high-dollar registered seedstock that ship all over the Continent, with gametes shipping globally. I don’t know how this discovery will affect them.

    It looks like the infected herd may not be the end of the world — this may not even lead to loss of Class – Free status for Montana. Here’s the skinny, straight from APHIS:

    Brucellosis classifications are as follows: Class Free, Class A, Class B, and Class C. When brucellosis is found in more than one herd of cattle in a brucellosis-free state within a two-year period, the state is downgraded to Class A status. Restrictions on moving cattle interstate become less stringent as a state approaches or achieves Class-Free status. The Class C designation is for states or areas with the highest rate of brucellosis. States or areas that do not meet the minimum standards for Class C are required to be placed under a federal quarantine.

    Who knows where this came from. Looks like there is some link between Paradise Valley and the infected cattle. However, anyone in the cattle business knows of shady operators and outright rustlers who move cattle on weekends and in the dead of night to avoid brand inspections and paperwork. There are places where cattle can wander from one state into the next pretty easily on their own. So it would be unrealistic to assume there are airtight controls on livestock transfers.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Thanks for the info. I believe Idaho is Class A status. Wyoming is currently class free, but was Class b.

  6. Pronghorn Avatar

    From the AP article:

    “Even if the outbreak in Montana is limited to a single herd, the perception of the state’s livestock industry could suffer, said Jay Bodner, with the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Errol Rice, the association’s vice president, added that it was “presumptuous” for state officials to discount a possible connection with Yellowstone bison pending the results of the investigation.”

    Can’t you just imagine them huddled together in an emergency meeting trying to figure out a way to backtrack and plant evidence pointing at Yellowstone bison? Here’s one scenario: a couple of lovely bison ladies leave the park looking for a good time in Red Lodge…they have a little too much to drink, get confused, and head toward Bridger instead of the park. A drunken roll in the hay and they wake up next to….eeek! eewwww, gross….CATTLE! Now, feeling so very cheap and soiled, they slink back to the park.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Yes, it looks like the Stockgrowers are going to try to milk this ugly cow.
    Let’s see who signs on with them.

  8. Layton Avatar

    I know I’m really naive about this whole thing — but what is it the cowboys have to gain by blaming the buffalo for carrying brucellosis??

    I realize that ANYONE that raises cows is in the wrong here, but I just think that this is some sort of a “tempest in a teapot” — unless someone can point out something different to me.

    The thread(s) on the “obviously” unjust treatment of some of the protesters of the hazing have pointed out that whatever the feds/state authorities do they are wrong!!

    In reading some of the prose about the overbearing cops I couldn’t help but notice one person waxing philosophically about what a “trip back in time” it was to see this sort of treatment of a protester — seemed like it was a return to the World Bank protests of the late 90’s – when (evidently) this person received the same kind of treatment at the hands of the authorities — hmmmmm, seems like a trend here —- “doesn’t matter what, let’s just get in their face and protest”.

    By the way, isn’t the fact that state officials are “discounting a connection with the Yellowstone bison” a point in their favor??


  9. kim Avatar

    “Even if the outbreak in Montana is limited to a single herd, the perception of the state’s livestock industry could suffer, said Jay Bodner, with the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Errol Rice, the association’s vice president, added that it was “presumptuous” for state officials to discount a possible connection with Yellowstone bison pending the results of the investigation.”

    Layton, i think the above quote from the S/A shows they are looking for a connection and an out to blame the Yellowstone herd,,,and that in there opinion,, the state should not have made such a comment, without fully investigating, so they appear to be looking at the yellowstone herds

  10. SAP Avatar

    It is interesting that the Stockgrowers would get exercised over what looks like a pretty reasonable statement.

    After all, Emigrant is pretty far from YNP, and with the intensive monitoring /quarantining /capture/slaughter operation taking place above Yankee Jim Canyon, it seems pretty unlikely that any bison — especially cows and calves — would ever make their way north of Yankee Jim.

    Why do the Stockgrowers act that way, then? Well, the easy and not-very-insightful answer is that YNP bison are a major symbolic issue for them.

    Much of what goes on in YNP ends up turned into political symbols through which people make their case for one worldview versus another.

    It seems like the worldviews clashing over Yellowstone — if we want to just lump them into two categories — would correspond to Stephen Kellert’s “Dominionistic/Utilitarian” verus “Ecologistic/Asthetic” ways of viewing and treating the natural world.

    Criticizing YNP as an over-grazed cesspool of infectious diseases is a way for the Dom/Util crowd to make a very strong argument against the Ecologistic worldview — YNP is the E/A crowd’s Shangri-La, Mecca, St. Peter’s all rolled into one.

    It’s a way of saying “your worldview is misguided and destructive, and the last thing you should be doing is criticizing the way WE do things.” The way we make these statements is NOT in the egghead way I’ve been using, but through evocative symbolic issues like bison and wolves.

    People are often unaware that they are espousing one of these orientations. To them, these alternatives look like “common sense” or “rational” or “scientific,” rather than a (unavoidably) subjective way of looking at the world.

    Maybe the Stockgrowers keep this fight going out of some sense of being slighted or besmirched by the larger culture — how often do we hear that “people don’t appreciate where their food comes from”? Going from being the agri-heroes feeding the world (1950s), to being accused of all kinds of “sins” (1980s onward) must sting.

    So they fight the “enemy” on almost any front, but particularly on high-profile ones like bison and wolves.

    What do they hope to gain? Well, probably the rewards are largely intangible (psychological/emotive) to the individual rancher, since bison really aren’t costing them anything (in fact, all the money spent by DOL and FWP on bison ops could go into things that might directly benefit ranchers instead — forage compensation, fence repair . . .).

    One could argue that the staffers at Stockgrowers HQ sometimes grab onto these high-profile symbols to justify their paychecks, but I have seen no evidence to support that assertion.

    Maybe they’ve fought over bison for so long, they are real sensitive to any suggestion that all that time, energy, acrimony, and misery inflicted on bison is unjustified. You’d have to be some sort of sociopath to not feel a little bad about how bison are treated, so I think part of their sensitivity is a defense mechanism against feeling guilt.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thank you for another outstanding opinion piece! Ralph Maughan


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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