Hoskins on brucellosis

Robert Hoskins, one of the best informed people who post to this web site, is, of course, active writing in many publications.

Recently he had a good LTE to the Billings Gazette. Brucellosis management has utterly failed.

In Google News comments, he follows up on the Montana brucellosis in great detail.

There Is No Scientific Proof that Elk Infected Montana Cattle with Brucellosis. By Robert Hoskins, Naturalist, GravelBar. Google News. Comments by people in the news.



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  1. Roy Avatar

    Some here gleefully see this as a wedge issue between sportsmen and the livestock producers. Here’s a more balanced opinion……

    Montana must avoid Big Brother approach to controlling brucellosis

    While no conclusive evidence exists that the latest positive (brucellosis) test in Paradise Valley has come from either bison or elk, that has not stopped those who would either privatize or kill off wildlife species such as bison and elk from our public landscape rather than work to find an equitable solution for all involved.

    Let’s explore what’s really happening with elk, open spaces, brucellosis and the Yellowstone area.

    Changing land ownership patterns, the loss of traditional access for hunters on private lands that were once open and changing herd dynamics due to wolves and other predators, have shown us that elk are now wintering more frequently on private lands that are closed to public hunting in Montana. “Harboring” has become a huge issue in the management of elk herds in a manner that benefits both livestock and wildlife. The mantra of “too many elk” is not founded in the science of wildlife management, but in the social tolerance of a few landowners. What is playing out now is that new landowners who do not allow access, do not consider the impacts to neighboring landowners, lease their lands to commercial hunting interests exclusively, or refuse to work with Fish, Wildlife and Parks only to end up harboring large concentrations of elk in what essentially become feed grounds.

    Twenty-three feed grounds not far from the southern border of Yellowstone, including the National Elk Refuge, are unnaturally concentrating elk, and increasing the seroprevalence rates in Wyoming elk. To further complicate the issue, wild elk herds on the east side of Yellowstone are showing increased seroprevalence rates. While there is no easy solution to the feed ground issue in Wyoming, and it is the job of Wyoming to manage its own wildlife, it is clear that concentrating elk unnaturally is a sure way to increase brucellosis in elk.

    Montana, as well as Wyoming and Idaho, must find a way to move away from the Big Brother approach of federal bureaucracies like Animal and Health Inspection Service, and come up with some solutions that do not jeopardize our incredibly important wildlife, and our equally important livestock industry. APHIS n back when pasteurization of milk was not widespread, electricity was only in cities and Henry Ford was still putting out Model As n devised a rule that said brucellosis must be eradicated from America. At the time, it was a sensible rule. Real human health concerns existed from contracting undulant fever. That philosophy has not been updated in over 70 years. It is what drives the actions of APHIS, and it drives those who would decimate public wildlife for a solution to a nonexistent problem.

    It’s time APHIS recognizes what the state of Montana, livestock producers, wildlife advocates and hunters know too well, that the system is broken. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and find new solutions that do not require massive depopulations of wildlife, or that would turn Montana’s treasured public wildlife herds in to private herds for commercial interests.

    Montana must focus on research to develop a vaccine that is effective in eliminating the disease in cattle, ensure that elk do not congregate on amenity ranches, and focus on minimizing co-mingling of elk and cattle. Trying to vaccinate wildlife is a pipe dream that is irresponsible to both livestock producers and wildlife enthusiasts.

    Solving this issue is going to require an investment by the Legislature. It’s going to require new legislation focusing on the harboring of wildlife, helping landowners minimize exposure to wildlife through fencing and herd management plans; it will require funding for testing of cattle both inside and outside the risk area and for aggressive efforts to develop a more effective cattle vaccine, and it’s going to require the federal government to step up to the plate and act like it’s in the 21st century, instead of driving around in that Model A Ford.

    Livestock producers should not bear the full brunt of the cost to keep their herds free of brucellosis. At the same time, the burden of outdated rules and regulations must not be shouldered by wildlife and hunters.

    Hugo Tureck is an associate director for the Montana Wildlife Federation’s Region 4, and writes from Coffee Creek.

  2. timz Avatar

    “Livestock producers should not bear the full brunt of the cost to keep their herds free of brucellosis”

    Why not? That’s like saying a manufacturer should not have
    to bear the full brunt of keeping his machinery running.

  3. Catbestland Avatar

    “changing herd dynamics due to wolves and other predators,”. . . Shouldn’t that be, “herd dynamicis changing BACK to a more natural state THANKS to wolves and other predators?” I knew it wouldn’t belong until someone tried to blame the brucellosis myth on wolves.

  4. Catbestland Avatar

    Also, why shouldn’t livestock producers bear the full brunt of the cost of keeping their herds free of brucellosis? They are the ones who brought the disease to our wildlife in the first place. In my view the livestock indusstry is liable for its own problems and should actually be held accountable to the public interest for damages to our wildlife as well. There should be some cause of action against the livestock industry for gross negligence resulting in damages to the public interest.

  5. kim kaiser Avatar


    i dont know if you saw the rancher after the recent brucellosis in Paradise,, the newpaper article quoted the neighbor saying it was the wolves fault,,, because they are making them move to where they had not ever been before,, showed him and his daughter sitting at the coffee house table with long faces,,,, funny how it all came back to the wolves.
    – – – – –
    That rancher was flat out wrong. Every severe winter the elk move far into Paradise Valley. I watch that stuff, just like Kim does. In the winter of 1996-7 which was a similar death year for elk and bison, I saw elk in Paradise Valley almost all the way to Wineglass (a.k.a. Canyon) Mountain on its north end. I had nothing to do with wolves.

    The elk haven’t left the Park because of wolves. I’ll bet today you can find them standing in the Lamar Valley, not far from the Druid Pack’s rendezvous site.

    Ralph Maughan, Webmaster

  6. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    There is the issue, though, that we have to be careful of here when it comes to private property rights.

    So, one problem with buffalo for instance has been in Horse Butte where property owners want buffalo on the land, and where DOL comes in any way and forces the buffalo out.

    That’s no doubt hypocrisy on the part of DOL, but it doesn’t do much good to push the property rights issue beyond that in part because of the way that other less scrupulous people can in effect keep wildlife on their private land and do with them whatever they will and capitalize off of them. That is why in the end people have to be very careful how far they push the property rights issue.

    Unfortunately, the livestock industry doesn’t have a leg to stand on here; they have no moral ground on which to complain about bad neighbors when their very presence in Greater Yellowstone is oppressive – if they want to remain, they need to bear the costs – and frankly, that won’t be enough for people like me. They ultimately must go (and you can read as much into “where” they must go as you desire).

    At the same time, here, there is a larger problem than the persecution of wildlife – namely capitalism. As long as we believe that people have rights to capitalize off of land, animals, and wildlife, we are going to run into all kinds of problems. If wildlife are merely another commodity of exploitation, then you are going to understandably have protestations like this from the livestock industry. If you go after everyone who would do this, then there is a much firmer ground to stand on. People won’t do that because they are only ready to go so far in their analysis of the problem.

    This is another reason why no one should be that eager for support of outfitters here – if they come along, great – at least for the time being – but it’s no long term solution to these issues, just a momentary convergence of interests. If they don’t come along on this, then perhaps it’s for the best.

    I think the livestock industry is only one of the problems here; rid their power, and you do a lot, but you won’t necessarily do enough to keep wildlife free. It would be a great start, however, toward that goal – especially if we pay attention to the kind of dangers that are also lurking along with that vile industry.

  7. john weis Avatar
    john weis

    Robert, I think there is a flaw in your logic on the transportation of Brucella via rodeo stock. As I am reading your argument, the disease is being carried via the rodeo stock, from rodeo to rodeo, and thus infecting local stock. There are lots of rodeos across the country including states with lots of cow such as Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, etc. These states, however, do not have Brucella-infected elk or bison wandering around with their stock. If your model is true, then would you not expect to see foci of Brucella infection emanating from every rodeo site across the west? But we don’t. Instead we only see Brucella infections in cows coming from an area with an endemic infection of wild animals. I think the epidemiology argues for a passing (perhaps back and forth) between stock and wildlife. But that does NOT mean we need to kill the bison or the elk: we just have to segregate the cows.

  8. wyomingwind Avatar

    From where did the wildlife originally contract the brucellosis? From livestock of course. Now the bison and elk are/will be destroyed to save the livestock “industry”. Before they start on these critter, they best check their own back yards, as it has been proven that brucellosis abortus can be carried by, infect and spread by canines, i.e. cow dogs, etc. It can also be carried by coyotes, fox, wolves and bear. In order to totally eradicate this disease in the wild populations, they will have to eliminate any possible carriers. Many canids have been shown to carry the disease, especially dogs and coyotes. Do they plan to totally eradicate all wildlife to keep the cattle “clean”?

  9. Brian Ertz Avatar


    I think we may all be disappointed if we expect the outfitters to “come along” with conservationists. We should be grateful for Livestock’s missteps in bringing this inherent convergence of interest to light enough to make the papers. Hopefully that opens doors.

    I think the livestock industry is only one of the problems here; rid their power, and you do a lot, but you won’t necessarily do enough to keep wildlife free.

    One step at a time. The scope of the pervasively deleterious influence of Livestock necessitates its complete and unequivocal removal from America’s public lands. Break this stranglehold – and you’ll be fit for whatever awaits around the corner.

  10. buffalorunner Avatar

    Jon Weis,

    The flaw is in YOUR logic. and failure to apply the basic scientific method:

    For example:
    Observation #1: Both cases in Montana were found in Corriente cattle, which are rodeo stock
    Observation #2: Rodeo stock travel to other states such as Texas
    Observation #3: Texas only recently regained it’s brucellosis free status and borders Mexico where this
    disease is rampant.
    Observation #4: This same rancher also raises red angus who did not test positive for this disease.

    Hypothesis #1: Corrientes were imported from a brucellosis infected herd.
    Hypothesis #2: Corrientes were born & bred in Montana and contracted the disease from infected cattle somewhere along the rodeo circuit
    Hypothesis #3: The Corrientes contracted brucellosis from infected elk or bison.

    Experimental design:
    1) Collect tissue samples from infected cattle, elk and bison from Montana & Texas cattle herds.
    2) Culture for brucellosis organisms
    3) Genotype (genetically fingerprint) each strain of brucellosis isolated from each animal
    4) Conduct comparative analyses to determine the genetic relatedness of each genotype

    Conclusion: The Brucella genotype that most closely matches the ones isolated from the Montana Corrientes is the primary source of infection in these cattle.

    Jon, the scientific method is BASIC high school science and the foundation of all research!

    This is also basic epidemiology! Something our government agencies, such as APHIS, seem incapable of performing.

    Think about it…if they had irrefutable evidence of an elk or bison source for infecting the Corrientes…APHIS & DOL would have plastered it all over the place by now. They have simply NOT done the necessary or appropriate investigation!!

    Look again at your statement…Even you admit that these cattle travel to TEXAS!! TRAVEL!! Key word here! That means potential for exposure outside of the state of Montana and it’s wildlife.


  11. john weis Avatar
    john weis

    Gee buffrunner, you give a person a lot to chew on.

    You state that both cases in Montana were found in Corriente cattle. Were these imported from Mexico with the infection? Would they not have to enter the states with a clean bill of health, especially from a country with known infections? If not, where did they acquire it?

    Don’t rodeo stock go to other places than Texas? I didn’t think Texas had a monopoly on rodeos (just drug store cowboys).
    If they DO go to other states and other rodeos, do they leave disease behind? Why would they only leave disease in their wake in Texas and not Colorado or Oklahoma?

    Were the cases in Texas from stock exposed to rodeo stock, or, perhaps, wandering around the Mexico border (maybe used as drug mules!)? What is the correlation of their infection to exposure of infected animals in rodeos?

    What genetic markers can be used to classify different strains? You said: “”Conclusion: The Brucella genotype that most closely matches the ones isolated from the Montana Corrientes is the primary source of infection in these cattle.”” What does this mean? Have they fingerprinted the Yellowstone Brucella? How diverse is the endemic Brucella in Yellowstone elk and deer? Is your comment theoretical or fact? I am confused.


    But frankly I don’t understand your basic tenet that an endemic source of infection in Yellowstone is not a logical source of infection of cattle pushed into wild life terrain. It doesn’t mean we need to go kill the bison or elk, it is just a matter of understanding such a transmission could happen and livestock need to be separated from wildlife. So get the cows off public lands!

    By the way, it is John, not Jon. I use my real name.


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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