Second Case of Brucellosis Found in Montana Cattle. Not the End of the World.

A second case of brucellosis has been found in cattle in the brucellosis surveillance zone near the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in Montana. This has prompted Texas to ask for further testing of cattle that are exported from the area to be tested once they arrive in the the state. It’s not as big of a deal as it once was.

Since Montana changed its brucellosis monitoring rules the threat of brucellosis has not been as much of a bugaboo as it once was. Before the rule changes, which require greater testing of cattle in areas around Yellowstone National Park, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) required testing across the entire state of any state that experienced two brucellosis detections in livestock during a one year period. Upon losing its brucellosis free status Montana would be required to test every cattle exported out of state even if it came from as far away from the initial detection as Plentywood or Westby. This didn’t make sense but so the state came up with a plan that designated brucellosis surveillance zones around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where most of the brucellosis detections occurred. In the event that brucellosis is detected in the surveillance zone, only cattle being exported from the area are required to be tested before they are exported.

It makes sense right? But this plan wasn’t implemented without some controversy by those who wanted to exert their political power over livestock management throughout the rest of the state. At the time the rules were being developed, some of the more powerful and intransigent livestock interests were whining about how unfair it was for producers who insisted on raising livestock near an area where brucellosis had been introduced to wildlife, such as elk and bison, by the livestock industry in the first place. They claimed that these producers would share an unfair burden of having to test their livestock on a regular basis while the rest of the state wouldn’t. Of course, as with everything about this issue, it wasn’t really about that. It was really about exerting control over how elk and bison and everything else is managed around Yellowstone National Park.

When APHIS rules required that every cattle leaving Montana be tested after two brucellosis detections in the state these same prominent livestock interests insisted that the entire GYE be depopulated of bison and elk so that brucellosis could be eradicated. They insisted, as they always do whenever they don’t get everything that they want all of the time, that the entire livestock economy would suffer a catastrophic hit if ever the state were to lose its brucellosis free status. Ranchers all across the state would go out of business if they were required to spend the extra money required to test their export cattle. They had to do something, and for years it had to be whatever the livestock industry wanted. And they got a lot.

For years, every buffalo that dared set foot outside of Yellowstone National Park and eat a single blade of grass, for grass was really what the whole fight was about in the first place, was shot on site. It didn’t matter that there were no cattle for miles from the West Yellowstone area during the period that bison could conceivably transmit brucellosis, or that bison never have, and still haven’t, transmitted brucellosis to cattle. They had to be killed. It didn’t matter that elk were more widespread and were being concentrated at feed lots in neighboring Wyoming where they infected each other and kept the incidence of the disease sky high in the GYE. The livestock industry there was benefitting from that so the Montana folks couldn’t call them out for making the problem worse.

Montana had not experienced two brucellosis detections which triggered the loss of their brucellosis free status for many years, but when it did, the economy didn’t come to an end. In fact, it was hardly even noted.

So, when a rational solution was offered that only concentrated on the areas most affected, these livestock interests saw that they would lose most of their leverage over public opinion. They concocted wild arguments about how dangerous it was to require testing of cattle and said that it would be an undue burden for those in the affected area. It just wasn’t fair that those ranchers would have to test while the rest of the state didn’t. It just wasn’t fair.

That’s when things fell apart. The public wasn’t buying their fear tactics anymore. Yeah, they still warn that if they don’t get everything that they want all of the time that life will soon end in rural Montana and some people still buy those arguments, but they are starting to sound like the boy who cried wolf and fewer people are listening.


  1. Mr.KnowItAll Avatar

    The brucellosis situation/problem could have been solved long, long ago! Instead. it has been used as a gold mine to fund careers, bring fame, and line the pockets of the hundreds of non profit organizations that use it as a fund raising mission. Common sense, sound research, and facts have been silenced for rhetoric, propaganda, and lies. Even APHIS repeats the lies! My door is always open!

  2. Robert Haile Avatar
    Robert Haile

    Too bad they are shooting wolves that thin out the sick animals.

    1. Rancher Bob Avatar
      Rancher Bob

      Do you think the wolves can tell which animals have brucellosis, because a blood test is the only way humans can tell which animals are sick?

        1. Nancy Avatar

          Thanks for the links BobMc. Some good comments in the old WN article.

          Posted this link a couple of days ago (under Interesting Wildlife News) and surprised no one had any thoughts about it:

          1. Barb Rupers Avatar
            Barb Rupers

            There is still the mystery of the 100 + elk found in NM in late August. Anthrax was not the cause and probably not pesticides. I couldn’t find that EHD had been ruled out.

            The central Clearwater River in Idaho had a large die-off caused by EHD of white tailed deer a few years ago.

        2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          This has been discussed here before, and most seem to think you are correct. Thanks for the links.


  3. tom Avatar

    When are we going to learn big business is full of lying cheating scum. And our lying cheating government supports them. Cattle are destroying our land by over grazing and producing megatons of shit that is polluting our most precious commodity — water. Wake up people – most experts say its already to late to reverse with the population surpassing 7 billion and growing daily.

  4. snaildarter Avatar

    Texas seems to enjoy pushing the envelope on this issue. Imports from the Northern Rockies must drive the price of their own beef down? It is interesting that no one ever links elk to the spread of this disease, it’s always bison. You would think Texas would have similar problems with all from all the wild hogs roaming their range.

    1. Rancher Bob Avatar
      Rancher Bob

      Montana has elk almost every where, and Wyoming, so where does the brucellosis always show-up? It’s almost always tied to the Yellowstone Park region and what’s different about the Park region? Non-vaccinated bison.

      1. SaveBears Avatar


        What is different about the park region, is there is a high number of infected Elk that intermingle with cattle populations. The Bison and Cattle and living in the same areas.

        1. SaveBears Avatar

          That is Cattle and Bison are not living in the same areas.

          1. Ken Cole Avatar

            Maybe not in Montana but they have been intermingling for decades in Wyoming.

            1. SaveBears Avatar

              I was talking about Montana Ken, I also have some interesting results from a couple of studies that were done a few years ago in Wyoming in those herds that have co-mingled, they showed no instance of transmission between cows and bison.

      2. Ken Cole Avatar

        I think you can put the blame for the high rate of brucellosis in elk squarely on the feed lots in Wyoming. It’s never going away and it is a problem that livestock brought here in the first place. Live with it.

        1. Rancher Bob Avatar
          Rancher Bob

          I’m living with it just fine. How about you grow up and live with wolves being managed by the states. Live with bison being hazed back into the park. How about you just live with public land grazing. Your a piece of work fish killer Ken.

          1. Immer Treue Avatar
            Immer Treue


            Fuses a bit on the short side on all perspectives. Something to do with the weather/changing seasons as all of a sudden the driving force is get “stuff” done before the onset of Winter?

          2. Louise Kane Avatar

            RB just please stop using the words state management, slaughter is so much more accurate and truthful

        2. Mr.KnowItAll Avatar

          Ken, It could “go away” if the effort was actually placed on making it go away. Everyone involved has no understanding of the disease, the cause, or the immunity to eventually eradicate it. The money is in the current system and everyone gets upset if you suggest alternatives to the money stream! Brucellosis could be eradicated in five years…….IF THEY WANTED IT!

          1. Ken Cole Avatar

            That’s pretty far fetched. There is no way to round up all of the elk and bison in the GYE to eradicate this disease, there is no need to eradicate this disease, and there is no way that the public would allow the livestock industry to do this. It will not happen.

            1. Mr.KnowItAll Avatar

              Ken, Why do you think they have to be “rounded up”? Why would you not want to eradicate this disease? Why would the livestock industry even consider such an idea? The public is getting the shaft by donating money to non profits that are trying to “save” the elk and bison and funding “research” that keeps repeating the same trials, yet solving nothing! Your statement, “It will not happen”, is indeed correct. As I stated in my first post, “this is a gold mine”.

              1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
                Ralph Maughan


                If we could snap our fingers and make the brucellosis that cattle originally brought to Yellowstone disappear, I doubt anyone would object.

                We cannot do that. Without magic, it is just not cost-effective.

              2. Mr.KnowItAll Avatar

                Ralph Maughan, No. It will take money and five years to eradicate, with no snapping of fingers, smoke and mirrors, or pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It will take the wildlife, cattle, and political industries working together, which they cannot do. As far as cost effective, you have to look at how much money is spent by the local, state, and federal governments, each year for brucellosis. The amount approaches 250 million dollars. If the brucellosis was eradicated, in elk, bison, and cattle then the discussion could be focused on the real issue of grazing competition. It would also take away a big portion of the money from the non profits, that use the issue for their benefit. If you want solutions based on scientific research, I am all in. If you want rhetoric and propaganda, then keep listening to and doing the things that have been going on since 1917!

              3. Ken Cole Avatar

                How do you propose this be done? You assert that it can but how?

            2. Mr.KnowItAll Avatar

              Ken, Over forty years of research in immunity! I know what causes brucellosis; what is needed to build immunity in elk, bison, and cattle; and how to do it without “rounding up” the elk and bison, in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Brucellosis can be eradicated, the elk, bison, and cattle can share the same space, and then the real battle can begin! I too have a non profit interest……homeless veterans, where all of the proceeds from my research goes!

  5. SaveBears Avatar


    Two separate strains of brucellosis are carried by pigs and cattle, swine carry the Brucella suis and Cattle carry Brucella abortus, which is the same strain carried by bison. Although possible, the chances of a cow contracting the brucella suis strain is extremely rare, and would have to involve indigestion of the birth products of pigs. Even less chance than you see with Bison.

    1. SAP Avatar

      Feral swine do actually carry B. abortus , as well as B. suis.

      From The Journal of of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigations, 2007:

      “Eighty feral swine were trapped from a herd that had been documented to be seropositive for Brucella and which had been used for Brucella abortus RB51 vaccine trials on a 7,100-hectare tract of land in South Carolina. The animals were euthanized and complete necropsies were performed. Samples were taken for histopathology, Brucella culture, and Brucella serology. Brucella was cultured from 62 (77.5%) animals. Brucella suis was isolated from 55 animals (68.8%), and all isolates were biovar 1. Brucella abortus was isolated from 28 animals (35.0%), and isolates included field strain biovar 1 (21 animals; 26.3%), vaccine strain Brucella abortus S19 (8 animals, 10.0%), and vaccine strain Brucella abortus RB51 (6 animals, 7.5%).”


      So, one sample of wild hogs in the South had a 77.5% infection rate. If we want to ignore B. suis and just look at B. abortus, these pigs were running 35% infected. It would be a safe bet to say that in the decade since they necropsied those pigs, there have probably been a few cross-species infections. I’d be really surprised if there weren’t infected cattle throughout wild swine range.

      1. SaveBears Avatar

        The aeras that we discuss the majority of the time and presents the danger to bison, is not Texas! In all honesty, nobody said swine can’t carry abortus.

        1. SaveBears Avatar

          SAP, I will have more time to address this information you linked, when I am back in my office and have files in front of me.

        2. SAP Avatar

          True, SB, you did not state that swine couldn’t carry B. abortus.

          I just wanted to make it very clear that swine do carry it, and that it’s therefore likely that there are other infected cattle in the US besides in the hot zone around the GYE. All those little cattle herds up in the hollows in Appalachia, in the pine woods of east Texas . . . plenty of small herds that undoubtedly share space with feral swine. And those small herds are under almost no surveillance for brucellosis — in part because they belong to a more casual segment of the beef industry, with few interstate movements and not a real high volume of sales; in part because APHIS perpetuates the fiction that they’ve rid the US of brucellosis everywhere but the GYE.

  6. snaildarter Avatar

    So elk are the real culprit but they are too valuable to name so they blame it on the bison. And to make it even more unfair cattle introduced it and feed lots spread it, but as always wildlife pays the price for human foley.

  7. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    In my opinion, when there is a public lands conflict between wildlife such as bison, elk, grizzlies and private exotic livestock, then it should be the private livestock that should give way to public wildlife — it is the private livestock that should be permanently removed from the public lands. I know, dream on.

  8. Richie G. Avatar
    Richie G.

    Rancher Bob many vets say dog can smell cancer so why can’s a wolf pick a sick animal ?


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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