Plan to spend millions vaccinating Greater Yellowstone elk and bison is a tired idea

Only difference is this time they might get some real money to waste-

Although the appropriation of $35-million to chase Greater Yellowstone elk and bison and try to vaccinate them against brucellosis might seem like a new issue to some, it has been around a long time.

Today the Missoulian has an article on it. Farm bill provision worries wildlife advocates; brucellosis threat could lead to elk slaughter. By Rob Chaney. A couple days ago, here in the Wildlife News, Glenn Hockett wrote about it, War on Wildlife Moves to the Federal “Farm Bill“.

The only difference now seems to be they might get real money to do it. It seems very odd given the enormous pressure to cut the federal budget, but Montana’s soon-to-step-down, senior senator, Max Baucus, is on the current House/Senate conference committee on the Farm Bill. He is a rich rancher, and probably soon to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Because Yellowstone Park has taken a tough stand this time, rejecting the proposal to shoot the elk and bison in the Park with “bio-bullets, this means the money would be spent on the fringes of the Park on national forest land, BLM land, state and private land, and this will include Wilderness areas.  So the management of wildlife inside designated Wilderness areas will have already raised its head in a similar, though slightly different way, than the slaughter of the Frank Church Wilderness wolf packs by a professional exterminator hired by Idaho Fish and Game. This time it will be the Montana Department of Livestock chasing mostly elk in Montana rather than Idaho Fish and Game killing Wilderness wolves in the great Wilderness of Idaho.

Already we see that state “the wildlife managers” won’t stop with wolves. They will go after elk too. In the past, both in Montana and Wyoming there have been proposals and even the actual slaughter of elk in Wyoming because they might have had a brucellosis infection.  There truly are wildlife disease problems in the Greater Yellowstone, but the most pressing is not the hundred year old infection of elk and bison with brucellosis transferred from long-ago cattle. The real problems are the terrifying menace of chronic wasting disease to elk, deer, moose, and bison and Johne’s (pronounced “Yoh-nees”) disease in bison. Where is the money to stop these while they are still outside Yellowstone Park and the Wilderness areas?

We began to write about efforts to use bio-bullets to vaccinate elk and bison shortly after The Wildlife News began publication. Past stories:

Dec. 17, 2006. The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund wants to kill thousands of Yellowstone area bison and elk
July 2, 2008. State vets plan to eliminate brucellosis in Yellowstone bison
June 15, 2010. Many skeptical of bison vaccination proposal
July 8, 2010. “Bio-bullets” for vaccinating Yellowstone bison. How many ways is this a bad idea?





  1. jdubya Avatar

    If they gave me 35 million to build a better vaccine, that would be a doable goal. This 35 million is just going to pissed down a gopher hole, though.

  2. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    Why doesn’t vaccinating work? Seems like it would help.

    1. W.Hong Avatar

      From my understanding,the current vaccinations are not very effective with Bison and virtually useless in Elk.

  3. jdubya Avatar

    It is a poor vaccine that does not give a robust resistance which means this is a fruitless endeavor.

    Anytime you have an endemic disease within a wild population it is virtually impossible to eradicate short of killing off the entire population.

    I am sure the elk hunters of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming would be happy to kill off the elk herds to get rid of brucellosis..NOT! Not to mention the poor politically underprivileged bison……

  4. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
    Nancie Mccormish

    Wouldn’t it make more sense (logically and financially) to focus on breeding brucellosis-resistant strains of domestic cattle? We have produced every other kind of designer cattle genes so this doesn’t seem out of reach.

  5. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
    Nancie Mccormish

    There’s some really insightful work on this topic done by Bruce Smith in “Where Elk Roam.”

    I’m not associated in any way with him or his work, just read it and found it very readable and very credible. Highly recommended.


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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Ralph Maughan