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Cody-area ranchers discuss compensation plans for potential brucellosis outbreaks

Fish and Wildlife Service
Brucellosis often spreads to cattle through wildlife like elk.

Ranchers, government officials and nonprofits met in Cody Sept. 25 to discuss compensation options in a potential Brucellosis outbreak. Livestock producers worry that transmission from wildlife to cattle could become more common in western Wyoming due to the prevalence of the disease among elk in the area — and an increase in cases could create challenging financial burdens for the state.

Brucellosis is a contagious, infectious disease that often spreads to cattle after they intermingle with animals like elk or bison. It makes cows spontaneously abort their calves and can cause infertility and other problems.

When an animal tests positive for Brucellosis, entire herds often have to go into testing and quarantine programs. That can be an expensive situation, according to Steve True, director of the Wyoming Livestock Board.

“It ties you up,” he said. “You may have unforeseen costs in feed, transportation and just your ability to market or your pasture.”

The State of Wyoming has a reimbursement program for outbreak situations like this, but the maximum a rancher could get is $25,000, which many at the meeting said isn’t enough money.

“We're not going to make anybody well. If we can help them get through the hard times. That's what that's geared for,” True said.

The event was meant to start a conversation about alternative funding sources for compensation programs, especially from the private or nonprofit sector. One Montana fund can reimburse a single rancher more than $50,000.

Officials at the meeting said now is a good time to consider options before any wide-scale outbreak. A Wyoming Game and Fish representative said Brucellosis positivity rates in elk herds near Cody are at around 25 percent, meaning there are hundreds of potential instances of contamination and infection.

Will Walkey is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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