Outdated approach used to fight [Greater Yellowstone] brucellosis

Billings Gazette. Guest opinion by Don Woerner.  Outdated approach used to fight brucellosis.

This veterinarian pretty much demolishes the agencies’ approach to brucellosis in elk and bison in the greater Yellowstone area as well as demolishes myths such as that the Greater Yellowstone bison and elk are the last reservoir of brucellosis in the United States, e.g., “We have significant infection of feral swine all across our southern and eastern border. The swine brucellosis issue is yet another case of domestic livestock diseases contaminating our wildlife. How do we ever find, identify and slaughter every single infected feral swine? The brucellosis species is a widespread microorganism found everywhere from pet dogs to marine mammals.”

Dr. Woerner practices veterinary medicine in Laurel, Montana.




  1. Buffaloed Avatar

    The brucellosis in feral swine is much more dangerous to humans than the bovine form in buffalo and elk. It is the main reason that Homeland Security is involved in the transportation of buffalo to slaughterhouses because it was weaponized by the Soviets. It is treated as a biological terror agent but nothing is ever said about it in feral pigs.

    Another reason why many claim that brucellosis is not the issue with buffalo…… it’s grass.

  2. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Brucellosis in humans, unless I am mistaken, is no longer tracked by the CDC. The National Institute of Health describes the risk of brucella abortus being transmitted from bison to cattle as being so small as to be practically unmeasurable and therefore, next to zero.

    Montana’s cattle industry has simply created a brilliant smokescreen, using the brucellosis issue to cover their real agenda: control of grass on AMERICA’S public lands while giving the finger to the feds and the rest of America.

    The real sleeper disease is chronic wasting disease, a brain disease of cervids. It’s related to other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (brain diseases) of cattle (bovine TSE, or mad cow), sheep (scrapie), and humans (Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disease), as well as the feline and mink forms. The agent is called a prion, which is a deformed protein. It has no RNA and is not alive. It is also extremely hardy and extremely difficult to destroy. When a prion reaches the brain and contacts healthy proteins, it causes those proteins to deform and they cause other proteins to deform in a chain-reaction. The result is the brain becomes sponge-like, shot-through with holes and the subject dies. There is no cure. Stanley Prusiner received a Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the prion.

    Although it’s off topic, I’m going to take the liberty to describe my take on this issue in hopes that someone or some conservation group will run with what I’m proposing.

    It is my understanding that CWD’s ground zero occurred outside Fort Collins when a domestic sheep operation, suffering from scrapie, was shut down and subsequently, wild mule deer grazed over the sheep grounds – it is believed the deer picked up scrapie prions, which mutated into CWD, which was identified and described by the late Dr. Beth Williams, University of Wyoming, in the late 70’s.

    Now CWD is found in deer and elk in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and other states.

    ***Some of these cervids graze over cattle allotments.***

    Therefore, I maintain, that in the interest of public safety, grazing allotments found in the natural ranges of deer and elk should immediately be canceled. Why? Because there is the possibility that the prions of CWD, dropped by cervids via saliva, urine or feces, could be ingested by privately owned cattle and the prions could mutate into a new TSE that could POSSIBLY AFFECT HUMANS THAT EAT THE INFECTED CATTLE.

    Yes, I said “possibly.” The science is not in.

    In my opinion, this could be an incredibly valuable tool to help end grazing on AMERICA’S public lands. I’ve pitched the idea to John Marvel, of Western Watersheds Project, but he maintains that the science is not in.

    Perhaps somebody else would run with this…

  3. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    As someone who has been working this issue for more than a decade, mostly alone, I can say it is true that the science is not in regarding interspecies transmission of CWD, and making a public issue of it is premature. Nor is it necessary. However, there is no doubt that CWD can and does infect members of the deer family, and that is why the issue of Wyoming’s feedgrounds, which concentrate elk at unnaturally high, ghetto-like densities, is so important. At the minimum, our elk herds in western Wyoming are at risk of an extensive CWD epidemic on the State’s 22 feedgrounds, as well as on the National Elk Refuge and in Grand Teton National Park, with the potential for spread into Idaho and Montana. That alone that alone would have a major political/economic impact on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, not to mention biological and ecological.

    Our task is to think clearly and strategically about the disease issue. Brucellosis is a fraud; we all know that it’s merely another means for the livestock industry to extend control over wildlife and land.

    The real problem that we face, and which far too many collaboration minded conservationists refuse to accept, is the power of the livestock oligarchy to control wildlife and land use management for its own benefit. Consequently, everything we do has to be directed toward destroying that power through political, legal, and economic strategies and tactics. If we can do that, the other problems (e.g., grazing, migration of large mammals) will take care of themselves.

    This means, in effect, declaring war on the livestock industry and abandoning all this collaboration and consensus bullshit. It’s like civil rights; the civil rights movement didn’t negotiate the civil rights of African-Americans with the segregationists. It set out to destroy segregation, put an end to it. We have to think about and act in the same way.

  4. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Robert, by the time the science *is* in regarding transmission of CWD or more likely, a variant of CWD, to humans, it will be too late for X number of humans.

    Referencing the CDC quotes below, note:

    1) At least one animal TSE has been transmitted to humans: bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease)

    2) prions have a tendency to readily mutate (scrapie to BSE; BSE to vCJC (new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s)

    3) because the incubation period of TSE is measured in years, it will take *many* years of research to make ANY determinations whatsoever regarding CWD to cattle to humans

    This is why, in the interest of public safety, all grazing allotments where cervids with CWD are found should be immediately terminated.

    From CDC:

    TSEs in animals primarily occur by transmitting the etiologic agent within a species, either naturally or through domestic husbandry practices. In contrast, most such encephalopathies in humans occur as a sporadic disease with no identifiable source of infection or as a familial disease linked with mutations of the prion protein gene (3). A notable exception among the human TSEs is the variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which is believed to have resulted from the foodborne transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to humans (4,5).

    Concerns have been raised about the possible transmission of the CWD agent to domestic animals, such as cattle and sheep, which may come in contact with infected deer and elk or CWD-contaminated environments. If such transmissions were to occur, they would potentially increase the extent and frequency of human exposure to the CWD agent. In addition, passage of the agent through a secondary host could alter its infectious properties, increasing its potential for becoming more pathogenic to humans. This phenomenon may have occurred with BSE when a strain of scrapie, a possible original source of the BSE outbreak, changed its pathogenic properties for humans after infecting cattle. However, the exact origin of BSE remains unknown.

    Because of the long incubation period associated with prion diseases, convincing negative results from epidemiologic and experimental laboratory studies
    would likely require years of follow-up.

    Robert, HELL YES, we should (slowly) shut down Wyoming’s feedlots to reduce the incidence of brucellosis as well as CWD.

    I agree 100% with you about the power of the livestock oligarchy, declaring war on the livestock industry and abandoning all this collaboration and consensus bullshit. It IS a war.

    Where and how do I enlist?

    Actually, I believe our issues in the mountainous west will be resolved in our courtrooms and voting booths.

  5. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Correct me if i am wrong; We know that the fraudulent claims of brucellosis allow the cattle crowd to do as they please with bison and sometimes human observers. But Is it true to say that when it comes to cows possibly giving BSE to humans it gets brushed aside. I can think of a couple more instances where the livestock growers are very “verbal” about any disease infecting or killing cattle, but lack the concern for diseases doing the same to people. And that is sickening to say the least. Are my impressions wrong? It certainly is consistant with other profit over people institutions. My impression is that they blatently disregard anything that does not effect them directly.
    I have wondered about mystery immune diseases that develop in people, for example, digestive diseases like Crohn’s Disease, where the immune system cannot dissern harmful organisms from the persons own body. So the immune system basically attacks and destroys the body. Also Lupis and MS. Those diseases have the same symptoms but effect the body differently.

    about bringing change as you two spoke of: I am very interested in any ideas you may have. I also believe that the problem has to be corrected. It is obvious that compromise is not going to work. Compromise just drags on and on. Also the “practice” of dragging out an issue by trying to please everyone NEEDS TO STOP. It seems almost impossible to get anyones attention in groups large enough to do any good.

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I well aware of the current state of research into TSEs, and I would agree that prudence would accept the possibility of interspecies transmission of CWD. Nevertheless, we aren’t anywhere near a smoking gun on the issue, and that allows the agencies to brush off assertions about risk and possibilities of transmission to humans, as did the British government with BSE until it became clear that vCJD in humans was caused by BSE.

    My strategy so far has been to focus on the clear and indisputable threat to elk and deer of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, regardless of the potential threat to humans, and the role that the high densities of elk on Wyoming’s feedgrounds would play in allowing an epidemic to occur and allowing the disease to spread rapidly to Idaho and Montana. That’s why I support the rapid closure of all feedgrounds in Wyoming, rather than a slow “phase-out.” We don’t have time for a phase-out.

    FYI, the feedgrounds are not “grazing allotments.” They occur on Forest Service, BLM, state, and private lands. The ones on federal land have been approved under “special use permits,” under the subterfuge that the USFS and the BLM are only permitting the facilities (haysheds, fences, corrals, etc.) not the feeding program itself, under the false claim that the State of Wyoming has full authority over wildlife management activities on federal land. This is a legal weakness/falsehood that we are trying to exploit to shut the feedgrounds on federal land down, because according to both federal statute and extensive federal case law that goes back over 80 years, the USFS and the BLM have considerable authority over State wildlife management activities on federal land. Also, I know of nothing in federal law that would permit the USFS or the BLM to allow the State of Wyoming to operate clear disease hazards on federal land.

    As far as enlisting in this war against the cowboy oligarchy, I would say one thing people can do is to withdraw ALL financial support from collaboration and consensus groups like the GYC, ignore or explicitly challenge the nonsense you hear from people like Richard Knight and Courtney White, and give all the support you can to the Western Watersheds Project and the Buffalo Field Campaign. This is a war worth fighting, but it is and will continue to be costly. Give the courageous people all the help you can.

    Another thing that needs to happen is that the press needs to be turned around to discuss the “brucellosis is a fraud” story. Virtually everything I read in the press accepts the cowboy oligarchy’s word that brucellosis is a real threat to livestock. We know that’s false, but the press has been either too lazy or too bamboozled by the cowboys to question the claim. We need to let the press know with every story it prints that it’s doing the public a disservice by printing misrepresentations, falsehoods, and outright lies from APHIS, state wildlife and livestock agencies, and the various stockgrower organizations.

    Once more into the breach dear friends.


  7. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Robert, you’re right, we don’t have a smoking gun regarding the possibility, or, more likely, inevitably of transmission of CWD to cattle, where it could possibly mutate, then the cattle’s eaten by humans and it mutates again, killing X number of humans. But I’m sounding the goddamn alarm anyway.

    I’m aware that Wyoming’s feedgrounds are not grazing allotments. My basis in demanding that grazing allotments be shut down is that our cervids are presently grazing on and traveling through cattle grazing allotments, dropping CWD prions as they do so. If the scrapie form can mutate into a bovine form, as in Great Britain, then the scrapie form that mutated into CWD can probably mutate again into a new bovine form. Mad cow. It’s what’s for dinner.

    Every time I do a quick check of the status of CWD research, I learn something new. The earliest thinking was that CWD was limited to the brain and spinal column. Then CWD prions were discovered in the flesh. Now, Colorado State University states that CWD may be found in blood and may be spread by blood-feeding insects such as mosquitoes and ticks. Here’s the piece:


    I think you found the chink in the armor of the defense of feedlots in Wyoming – the idea that USFS and BLM are permitting the facilities and not the feeding itself. GO FOR IT…!

    I agree with you about Western Watershed Project being deserving of support – Jon Marvel takes no prisoners and he’s making history.

    Buffalo Field Campaign certainly deserves support, but I maintain that the brucellosis/buffalo/cattle management settlement needs to be revisited IN COURT. And that means legal minds which means $$$.

    “Another thing that needs to happen is that the press needs to be turned around to discuss the “brucellosis is a fraud” story.”

    We conservationists need our own damn media outlets. We’ve got Ralph’s blog here and we need video coverage at hearings, meetings, etc. that could be posted on the ‘net for all the world to see the filthy underbelly of the livestock oligarchy in the mountainous west.


  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I have nothing to argue about here, and yes, I know prions are being found well outside the central nervous system. And my own strategies are evolving the more I learn. I do think however that it’s important to distinguish between what we know and what we don’t know. Speculation doesn’t do well in the courts, for example.

    There are some efforts out there to develop our own media beyond the blogs. That, and legal challenges/revisitation of old bad decisions, is being worked on. As you say, it takes $$$. But I would hope, and I’m not an attorney, that the so-called Interagency Bison Management Plan in Montana is vulnerable to a new legal challenge. I am also hopeful that mis-management of elk and bison on the NER in Jackson Hole can come under a new challenge. I will admit that the Wyoming state feedgrounds are a tougher nut to crack, but some of us are rethinking challenge strategies. As you might expect, I do not want to discuss these in detail.

    I am convinced that the recent USFWS flip flop on Wyoming’s dual status approach to wolf “management” is arbitrary and capricious, not to mention a clear violation of the ESA, and will not find support in the courts, although if the case reaches the Supreme Court, who knows?

    Having our own videos at these meetings is a good idea.



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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