Conservation Groups Call For A New Strategy To Combat Brucellosis

Dec 19, 2017

Cattle Drive in Wyoming
Credit Theo Stein / USFWS

Conservation groups want a fresh take on management of a contagious disease occurring in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem called brucellosis, which affects elk, bison and livestock. It can kill fetuses, decrease fertility and hurt milk production, and many consider it an economic threat, too.

The Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates and the Gallatin Wildlife Association released a statement, saying they wanted to shift focus of disease management away from wildlife and towards livestock. Lloyd Dorsey, conservation director of Wyoming’s Sierra Club chapter, said that in recent years there have been too many bison kills in the name of protecting the livestock industry, even though there’s no record of bison transmitting the disease to livestock. The groups’ statement also mentioned elk feedgrounds as another major issue, because they keep animals in too close of quarters for too long, which can promote disease transmission.  

Dorsey said there are other effective ways to manage brucellosis without endangering wildlife.

“It can be mitigated with vaccines for cattle, again, separation, holding the cattle using animal husbandry techniques such as fences and phasing out the elk feed ground, and allowing elk and bison to free range,” Dorsey said. 

He also spoke to the value of conserving predator populations in the area.

“We do benefit from having the full guild of predators in this ecosystem and it should be expanded not only to benefit and mitigate the impacts of brucellosis on wildlife in this area, but also the disease chronic wasting disease,” Dorsey said. 

The groups’ decision to release the statement was partially in response to the National Academy of Science’s report on the disease earlier this year, which primarily recommends focusing on elk management.

Doug Brimeyer, statewide deputy chief of wildlife for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the agency’s authority is to work with wildlife when it comes to reducing potential transmission and co-mingling of animals. He said the ultimate goal of elk feedgrounds, for example, is to keep animals away from private lands and minimize damage. Brimeyer added the department works closely with landowners, specifically ones close to elk feedgrounds, so they’re aware of the risks.