Focus on elk as disease [brucellosis] persists near Yellowstone

What an outrage! The officials who speak for this special interest group need to be put in their place. This should be a national campaign issue.

Focus on elk as brucellosis persists near Yellowstone. By Matthew Brown, Associated Press Writer.

They will have to kill every elk in the Greater Yellowstone, and, of course, every bison. They miss some too, so even their “final solution” will fail. The ecosystem will collapse, all on account of an inconvenience to the livestock industry, one primarily of their own making by failing to adopt a split state status for brucellosis.

The real bad guys here in addition to the Montana Department of Livestock, are the Montana Stockgrowers Association who deliberately shot down governor Schweitzer’s split state status proposal. Then, of course, there are the Wyoming elk feedgrounds/feedlots that perpetuate transmission of the disease among elk.

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Please make sure this story and your reaction to it gets posted to other blogs and sent to candidates for office.



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  1. Dave Avatar

    First the wolves are too numerous and are killing all the elk. Now, at the same time, the elk are too numerous and are spreading disease to cattle. Hey, do we have a problem with logic here?

  2. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Different interest groups, Dave … it’s going to make for some strange and uncomfortable bedfellows – because the sportsmen groups are not going to be happy. Only very few have been on the side of the buffalo because the elk have been left alone. Now that elk are under attack, I don’t know what to think about the coalitions that seem to be emerging.

    We knew this was coming because of what has started to happen in Wyoming; one hopes the powerful sportsmen lobbies were ready and saw this coming.

  3. vicki Avatar

    I know everyone is going to say, hey what about wolves. Right now I’d have to say it is time for wolf advocates to sit back and let the special interest sportsmen (namely elk hunters) take the reins. This is a fight that may end with cattlemen finally being out ranked or out maneuvered.
    I’m so glad this is a public situation. It’s about time some one who isn’t ‘hugging trees’ will be able to take the platform. It will lend credibility to pro wolf people, and it shows that we weren’t all paranoid when we said it is bison today, it’ll be elk tomorrow.
    I don’t think it’s a good time to push wolves on the elk hunters. Let them focus on defeating cattlemen without us causing any distraction.
    If anything, I say join NEF, or your local chapter of elk hunting clubs…. your voice will be even more important once this plays out, and having a foot in the door might be helpful. Help hunters now, and make them an ally for your future.

  4. eve Avatar

    Geez, why not just kill all the wildlife in the GYA and give the whole thing over to the cows? Isn’t that really the jist, especially after the bison slaughter this winter?? I’m sure even after half the elk herd is slaughtered at the behest of the livestock industry, the wolf-hating road hunters will continue to insist it’s all the wolves fault that elk numbers are so low.

    In Montana, elk hunting generates a huge amount of income and enjoyment for a lot of people. It’s a way of life, seriously. It’s one place in the country where you can still buy an elk tag over the counter. I’ve known guys who quit their job when employers wouldn’t give them the first week of hunting season off. And since there’s plenty of ranchers making tidy sums off elk hunting and hunters, I think support might be limited even there. I have a hard time believing that such a ridiculously flawed plan would find any support outside the livestock industry.

  5. Bob Fanning Avatar
    Bob Fanning

    I know for a fact that Matt Brown {Pulitzer prize winning environmental reporter} had a lot more information for this story than this . Look how thin his source citations are. Someone killed his story and put this out instead.
    Yellowstone Parks’ scientists are playing the public for a bunch of emotionally intoxicated chumps.
    This is a political move not a wildlife management move.
    This story shows what a bunch of sleazeballs are populating the YNP scientific staff and what tactics they will resort to rather than doing their work.
    All those bison calves that were quarantined were re released without vaccinations.
    All the wolves that were taken in lethal control actions went without their carcases being tested for disease.

    Dr Mark Atkinson promised disease study results last 5/29/07 when the first case of brucellosis hit.
    —– Original Message —–
    From: Atkinson, Mark
    To: Robert Fanning Jr.
    Sent: Tuesday, May 29, 2007 7:03 PM
    Subject: RE: Biomedical protocol wolves 06.pdf

    Mr. Fanning,

    Yes it is still in draft form and is a work in progress. I want to receive comments from the field wolf specialists who are using the protocol so it can be refined and improved. I suspect a final version will be forthcoming following this year’s field season.
    I was employed by FWP in December 2004 but didn’t really begin any field work until the beginning of 2005.


    Dr. Mark Atkinson
    Wildlife Veterinarian
    Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

    Mt FWP never produced the disease studies they promised.

    These are the same scientists that told you that the Northern Herd was in tip top shape for a decade before they admitted that it had crashed.
    The only thing these “scientists” count is their days to retirement.

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Three points:

    1) We’ll see just how rigorous hunters’ response to this new “attention” by ranchers on elk in Montana will be–an “attention” I have been predicting for some time. In Wyoming, elk test & slaughter on the feedgrounds has raised not a peep of protest from Wyoming hunters, except from a few grumps like me. The Wyoming Wildlife Federation supported T&S wholeheartedly, and of course, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife were enthusiastic about it. No wonder, since SFW is a front for ranchers and outfitters, for whom feedgrounds are a subsidy. We will of course see how enthusiastic Wyoming hunters are about feedgrounds and intensive elk management when CWD hits the feedgrounds.

    2) Split status is not the issue here. The entire point of bison and elk management in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho is to enhance the control that the livestock industry wields over wildlife and wildlife management as well as land use. Disease management isn’t relevant except as a cover. It was only a matter of time that in Montana, the Stockgrowers would be blessed with the loss of brucellosis free status in order to give “legitimacy” to the plan to extend the control it now wields over bison over elk as well.

    3) We should recognize that there is not a shred of evidence, scientific or otherwise, to link the brucellosis incidents in Montana to elk; yet, the Stockgrowers and DOL/APHIS are fingering elk as often and as loudly as possible, with the willing and ignorant assistance of the press. There is good circumstantial evidence to link the incidents to cattle. That evidence is: a–APHIS and DOL refuse to release epidemiological data regarding either of the two incidents that would prove or disprove an elk or cattle source, b–Corriente cattle have been involved in both incidents, and the brucellosis status of Corrientes is highly suspect, and c–the threshold of infectiousness (high brucellosis seroprevalence and close and continuous contact between hot elk and cattle during the narrow window of potential transmission) that exists in Wyoming with feedground elk does not exist in Montana elk. The refusal of the agencies to release epidemiological data alone is a good reason to suspect cattle. It is reasonable to conclude that the agencies know the incidents are due to cattle but are simply refusing to admit it in order to implement their long standing plan to extend greater control over elk in Montana.

    O brave new world, that has such damned fiends in it!


  7. natehobbs Avatar

    As much as I would like this issue to be quickly erased and mocked out of the policy rooms, part of me wants this to become a long drawn out fight to polarize hunters from ranchers.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Robert Hoskins,

    I don’t know if you saw it, but Bob Wharff, posting as BW on June 24 commented:


    Not often that you and I have agreed on an issue but you are correct in that they just shot themselves in the foot.

    It will be interesting to see how many of the livestock producers echo todays remarks or how many will realize the mistake that has been made.

    I have been waiting for the USDA APHIS to make their play and if this is it they are badly mistaken. I already told the APHIS representative that has been working with Wyoming’s Brucellosis Task Force that they (APHIS) should not attempt to reduce wildlife numbersas it would only backfire. The majority of livestock producers should denounce this action or they will face severe public backlash.

    While serving on the Brucellosis Task Force I have stated my support for trying to discover means to address Brucellosis. Recently, I have been fearful of how APHIS might weigh in on this matter. Brucellosis is predominantly a livestock issue not a wildlife one. I doubt that the public will be willing to see their wildlife resources reduced. Furthermore; if a reduction is warranted, the public is more apt to desire a reduction in livestock rather than wildlife.

  9. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    No, I didn’t. In any case, Wharff did serious damage to elk on the Brucellosis Task Force by following the Stockgrower line on feedgrounds, absolutely refusing to consider closing them even though the veterinarians on the Committee wrote a minority report calling for an end to feedgrounds.

    One of the other issues that complicates brucellosis “management” in Wyoming is whether Wyoming livestock interests will remain in charge of wildlife or whether federal livestock interests (APHIS) will be in charge. The states rights conflict exists within the livestock industry as well. That there is a conflict doesn’t help wildlife much. Cowboys are in charge nonetheless.

    Feedgrounds serve one purpose–to obstruct elk from migrating to winter range that is “reserved” for cattle. We know winter range exists, as does the Wyo G&F Dept. It’s just that it has cows on it. It follows that the solution is to shift priority of use to elk and get rid of the cows.

    Matt Brown’s story is poorly written. He refers to “federal officials” calling for more intensive management of elk but the meeting where this issue was raised was a meeting of state vets from Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. I do not know for a fact that APHIS attended the meeting, although no doubt it did, as did livestock organizations. No conservationists were there, however, that’s for sure, as they were deliberately cut out of the communications link.

    Brown fails to identify just who these “officials” are. We need to understand that state vets are representatives of and work for the Stockgrower organizations of their respective states, and it is the Stockgrower organizations that are determined, more than anyone else, to maintain their oligarchical control over wildlife, land use, and management agencies at the state level.

    Brown’s story is also full of the same propaganda that the livestock industry has been spewing for years about what a danger brucellosis is. We know it is not. I have written Brown several times to correct errors in his stories, but he has yet to respond and he continues to repeat the cowboy lies. The lazy press is just as much a problem as the livestock industry.

    The cows are coming home to roost for SFW. It and Bob Wharff have followed the cowboy party line regarding feedgrounds from the beginning, and now it seems the party line is changing to target elk with an even more intensive and expensive test & slaughter, paid for by the hunters and anglers of Wyoming because ranchers are whining about the threat of elk to their AUMs and their so-called custom and culture. To hell with them.


  10. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    Problem: brucellosis in cattle

    Solution #1–spend millions trying keep cattle and buffalo apart by herding buffalo back into Yellowstone and/or killing buffalo outside the park. That didn’t work.

    Solution #2. Try the same basic plan on elk, which are 10 times more plentiful than elk. That won’t work, plus commercial hunting outfitters who reap financial benefits from elk hunting are going to go nuts.

    Solution #3. Let ranchers pay the cost of fencing cattle and elk off public lands grazing allotments.

    Solution #4. No cattle on public lands. No grazing allotments on public lands. If ranchers want to keep elk and buffalo away from their cattle, make ranchers fence elk and buffalo off the rancher’s private land.

  11. Indamani Avatar

    I like #3 but I prefer #4.

  12. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Well, some of us have been arguing for numbers 3 and 4 for a long, long time. It would be nice if the wimpy mainstream enviro groups would do the same. Doing that would of course require giving priority in the Yellowstone Country to wildlife and telling ranchers that if they want to raise cattle in the Yellowstone Country, they do so at their personal risk and cost.

  13. Monty Avatar

    If they clean out the bison & elk will the deer & antelope be next? This nonsense reminds of the effort 80 years ago wherein, after an English botanists brought some Ribes plants (alternate host to white pine blister rust) to the west coast that subsequently infected the five needle pines, the “cure” was to find & kill all of the Ribes plants throughout the west. It didn’t work! My father spent 3 summers pulling Ribes plants which helped pay his way thru college but did nothng for the pine.

  14. Kati Schwab Avatar
    Kati Schwab

    I’m just wondering, is brucellosis really that big of a deal on its own? I know that it causes the cattle to abort if they are pregnant, but is it just a one time shot, or do they continue to do so for a long time? It seems to me that if a cow gets this disease, but it only affects them once and they can have a calf next year, all the management of the problem is pretty harsh.
    I know that he mentioned in the story that the vaccine is only effective 60 to 70% of the time, but if there are only a very few cases, I would think the vaccine is a better way to manage this problem than trying to take out entire species!

  15. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Some of the “wimpy” enviro groups were also at our forum the previous Monday alongside Montana state legislators, other hunting advocacy groups (at least one I had never seen involved before), and some interested parties in Bozeman.

    To a challenge from Rep. Phillips on what their line might be on legislation to protect buffalo as wildlife (Phillips also unprompted by anyone in the room has also said he’s considering bringing a bill withdrawing Montana from the IBMP), the representative in the room gave a typically non-committal answer. That they showed up to see what was happening perhaps gives me more pause for concern than hope. One group represented and typically allied with these groups, however, gave verbal support to the bill in its current form that the Gallatin Wildlife Association has been promoting (which essentially calls for treating buffalo as wildlife).

    However, the linchpin is the IBMP, which the room generally agreed – with some exceptions from the wimps among us – needed to go before other chips could fall into place.

    If they think they are going to create an IEMP (elk), will that be enough for the wimps to muster up some courage? They are starting to fight the feedlots in Wyoming; will they dare speak out in Montana? I’m not sure which way the wind is blowing; I had better ask a weather man. Seriously, though, the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. When you see the outfitters in a room with environmentalists and a few of us anarchists, the whole thing is unsettling. Only the livestock industry could have managed such a strange aligning of interests against them.

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Do you want to name the “wimpy groups?”

  17. Marge Avatar

    Remember, y’all: a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy.

  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Robert Hoskins has a LTE on this issue in the Billings Gazette.

    “Letter: Brucellosis management has utterly failed.

  19. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I don’t think so. A good compromise provides each side with something, and produces a win/win situation.

    Too often in recent years, politicians have forged bad compromises and tried to say “everyone’s unhappy, that means we have done a good job.”

    If everyone is unhappy, that is evidence of a bad, not a good job.

  20. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Defenders of Wildlife were both there. Their grassroots ally, Bear Creek Council, came out in support of GWA’s bill.

    Among hunter’s groups, besides GWA, there was a representative from the Safari Club. There may have been at least one or two others, I can’t remember.

    We were happy to have all groups there, but to say that I personally am wary is an understatement.

  21. Buffaloed Avatar

    #3 sucks. Keep the cattle off of public lands.

  22. Brian Ertz Avatar

    federal legislation prompting voluntary buyouts of grazing allotments are win/win that makes everyone happy

  23. vicki Avatar

    Yes, that would be win/win. But the key is voluntary. SO, we wait. I don’t think every rancher will rush out to volunteer. But the legislation could say that no leases will be renewed and no grazing permits will be awarded…. how realistic is that though? DO you see it happening?

  24. JB Avatar


    I can’t fathom why any conservation group would support the IBMP…did they (the aforementioned “wimpy” groups) provide any justification?

  25. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Bear Creek Council made an attempt at it – saying that the political reality meant that change had to be incremental, and that though the IBMP is far from good, that without it, there would be no stopping DOL from completely decimating the herds. I’m not sure what they think actually happened last winter north of the park.

    Another disappointing thing was continued support for the buffalo hunt even though there is no buffalo habitat. One of the main reasons offered was that it is lucrative to the economy of Gardiner and that they as an organization cannot ignore that aspect of it.

    That was all very disappointing – however, we were very surprised to hear that they are pledging support to the bill by GWA that would at least remove the disease-control designation for buffalo and implicitly call for more habitat, though there was confusion whether that would result unless Montana also pulled out from the IBMP. Or, conversely, whether passing the bill would in effect signal Montana’s withdrawal from the IBMP since DOL would no longer manage buffalo.

    The non-grassroots groups were very silent. GYC simply said it’s their position that buffalo be managed as wildlife, but as for support for the bill, tactics, the IBMP, and other things, in light of the legislation, they said they had not talked about it as an organization. I was pleased that Rep. Phillips took the time to put them on the spot since they effectively derailed and watered down the last effort at this in 2005.

    For me, though, these are not strategies that I personally find very promising. I support the efforts because I will support a diversity of strategies and tactics, but I want to ask the people in my group supporting this effort – what do we do when January comes and this fails again? What’s the next tactical step? How do they plan to push this once it fails once again? I hope that they don’t think the elk issue will be enough; it certainly can’t hurt, but I think people here can understand the discomfort I felt facilitating a meeting of all these different interests, one that was originally intended for new people and how they could advocate for the buffalo.

  26. Mike Avatar

    Ralph, no situation will please everyone.

    It’s just not a realistic goal.

    When it comes to conservation, being right is more important than pacifying.

  27. JB Avatar

    Thanks Jim. It helps to know a bit more about what was said.

    – – – –

    Mike, I would argue that whether or not an outcome/plan/program is pleasing to every interest depends largely on the issue. Sometimes win/win outcomes are possible, sometimes not. However, agencies must start their analysis by looking for win/win scenarios, as it would be a travesty to spend valuable time and money pushing through a controversial decision, only to later realize that a win/win was possible.

  28. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Win-win with the livestock industry is not an option. Never has been. Never will.

    For years, conservationists have been recommending common sense solutions to the so-called brucellosis problem, recognizing that scientifically, the risk of interspecific transmission exists in a small time window, the third trimester in the pregnancy of an infected animal, and outside that time window there is no risk. What this comes down to is that absolute physical separation between wildlife and cattle during the narrow window of transmission is necessary.

    With physical separation assured, feedgrounds could be closed and elk spread across the landscape to reduce the risk and incidence of disease. Same with bison.

    There are many low key, inexpensive ways to achieve this separation that might cause ranchers some inconvenience but not compared to the inconvenience and expense that rancher-demanded intensive management programs like elk feedgrounds, vaccination, quarantine, and test and slaughter cause the public and wildlife.

    Indeed, ranchers and the livestock industry have absolutely refused to consider any common sense, “win-win” solutions to the so-called disease problem. That’s because they don’t recognize a disease problem. They recognize their grass problem. Therefore, they’re interested only in keeping elk and bison off the range to eliminate the competiton with cattle. They’ll kill as many bison and elk as they can get away with to accomplish this goal.


  29. JB Avatar


    I don’t disagree. However, I would note that people who make a living running collaborative processes always start by determining each interested parties’ BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). This allows them to assess whether participants have a reason to negotiate/collaborate. In this case, ranchers don’t care. Negotiate, don’t negotiate, it doesn’t matter when you have the political power to influence the decision in your favor either way.

    Collaboration is a game that only works when the party with the power to make the decision has an honest interest in a fair outcome (i.e. in the absence of corrupt political influence).

  30. Brian Ertz Avatar


    i am surprised that you are yet unconvinced of the futility of attempting rational interest-based collaboration/compromise with the livestock industry.

    the only meaningful ground gained for wildlife in these struggles results when this interest is put in its place.

  31. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Fairness is not a characteristic of the livestock industry. Neither is respect for truth or honesty or integrity or concern for the larger community. The livestock industry is an oligarchy, pure and simple.

  32. JB Avatar


    You misinterpret my response: I definitely recognize the futility of collaborating with The livestock industry. What I’m trying to point out is that the political control exerted by the livestock industry presents a somewhat unique case with regards to collaboration. Resource management issues (at least here in the Midwest) are often extremely localized; therefore, we don’t have meaningful involvement by big political powerhouses like the livestock industry or Defenders of Wildlife. The result is that collaborative processes involve a few, well-intentioned individuals open to reasonable compromises. What I’ve come to recognize is that the West presents an entirely different situation (at least with polarizing issues such as wolves). You cannot expect compromise from an industry (or any interest group from that matter) that enters into collaboration with the “well, we can always sue” motto; moreover, you certainly can’t expect a fair outcome when one party (i.e. livestock industry) owns the process. What I’m trying to point out is that this is not the norm with regard to collaboration.

    What gets my hackles up is that the blame is put on the process, when it belongs with those who implement it. In fact, I had the opportunity to speak recently with one of the proponents of collaborative processes who said he wouldn’t touch the wolf issue with a 10 foot pole.

  33. dave smith Avatar

    I’ve been re-reading David Brown’s book The Grizzly In The Southwest, which tells an enlightening tale about ranchers. Back in 1973, Brown and other biologists with the New Mexico-Arizona Wildlife Society carefully crafted a resolution to reintroduce the grizzly to the Southwest. They “tested the waters” during a cattlemen’s convention in Albuquerque. Accompanied by the assistant director of the New Mexico Fame and Fish Department, they explained the deal to a “respected leader of the cattle growers,” who pondered the proposal, and then “replied laconically, ‘I feel like my daughter just married a nigger,’ and walked out.” p. 6/7

    Thirty five years later, does anybody think a significant number of ranchers in the southwest or Pinedale or Choteau have changed their attitude toward predators?

  34. sal Avatar

    “Thirty five years later, does anybody think a significant number of ranchers in the southwest or Pinedale or Choteau have changed their attitude toward predators?”


  35. JB Avatar

    “…does anybody think a significant number of ranchers in the southwest or Pinedale or Choteau have changed their attitude toward predators?”

    What’s alpha? p < 0.05, 0.01, or 0.001? 😉

  36. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Note the AP posted a correction to this story saying that elk aren’t being targeted for slaughter –

    Correction: Elk threat story

    (AP story in Kansas City Star)

  37. Seth Avatar

    Well my wife has contracted this disease from elk meat she ate about 4 weeks before she started getting symptoms. The typical incubation period is 4-5 weeks. She has been incredibly sick with it for 5 months now and counting. It spreads to cattle and other animals. I would say, even as an avid hunter, this disease needs to be killed off for good even at high stakes. I’m a big fan of doing it then restocking followed by testing of stocked animals. The amount of agony this has caused for us is almost unbelievable and it has baffled MANY medical professionals along the way.
    It is really so sad to find out this disease was originally developed for biological warfare by the United States. Right now it is affecting my wife and other Americans. That makes me a little…I’ll say frustrated.



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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