State may have to re-evaluate surveillance area boundaries
Riverton – Surveys recently completed by the Wyoming Game and Fish (G&F) with the help of hunters submitting blood samples have revealed areas around Cody where the elk populations have a 10 percent or higher seroprevalance rate for brucellosis.
“Previously, sampling indicated that elk that did not winter on the feedgrounds had a two to three percent seroprevalence rate if they had brucellosis at all,” says Wyoming State Veterinarian Walt Cook. The areas where the higher incidence has been found do not include elk feedgrounds.
“We found an infected elk fetus last May and after that I had a meeting with producers up there. There was a lot of interest and concern surrounding the increase in seroprevalence in the elk in those areas including the Clark’s Fork and the Gooseberry,” says Assistant State Veterinarian Jim Logan. G&F asks hunters to submit blood samples for testing on an annual basis and this year focused their work around the region where the fetus was discovered.
Cook says they haven’t had an opportunity to fully digest the G&F findings and determine what needs to be done to protect the industry in areas adjacent to the elk herds in question. He and Dr. Logan will be meeting with Wyoming Game and Fish Department and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service staff to evaluate the situation.
“I am definitely concerned about it,” says Logan. “If we’re seeing an increase in the elk seroprevalance outside the feedground areas and we have a rough winter we’re going to have elk coming down on the cattle feedlines.” In other areas of the state where elk feeding occurs he says the feedgrounds serve as a tool to separate elk and cattle.
Testing now occurs on all test-eligible females at the state’s livestock auction markets with exceptions made for cattle destined for slaughter and approved feedlots. Test-eligible females in the defined surveillance area – Sublette and Teton counties, the northern half of Lincoln County and the western third of Fremont County – are also being tested prior to change of ownership or shipment across county lines. Ranch-specific herd plans – now completed by 158 producers, 48 of which are in the surveillance area – do provide a few exceptions based on an individual risk assessment.
“My gut feeling is that we may have to increase the size of the area to encompass where the seroprevalance is increasing. I don’t, at this point, know what the exact extent of the increase would be,” says Logan. “We already have quite a few producers in that area with herd plans pretty much as a result of the elk fetus. Originally the surveillance area was six counties so a lot of producers in that area already have herd plans because of that.” Park and Hot Springs counties are the two most likely to be affected by any changes.
Any changes in the surveillance area, says Cook, would require that the Wyoming Livestock Board’s Chapter 2 brucellosis rules be opened. “That could take up to a year by the time we completed the process,” he says noting the opportunity for public comment. “We need to determine distribution of seropositive elk. If we find that this is a localized problem we may be able to deal with it by working with individual producers, but if it is widespread, we may need to look at rule changes.”
Undoubtedly, opening of those regulations would include a discussion as to whether or not the testing of all test-eligible females at the state’s livestock auction markets should continue.
“We test an awful lot of cattle that are hundreds of miles from the elk and wildlife problem and you can’t help but think we’re wasting a lot of money,” says Cook. “We are bringing up to the Livestock Board that we should be doing something that would be a little more cost-effective.”
“The main reason I see it as a valid thing to continue to some degree, doing testing on cattle out of risk areas or surveillance area, is I think it’s important to protect our own producers in Wyoming so they don’t end up buying an infected animal and to protect the marketability of all the producers in Wyoming,” says Logan noting the implications to interstate commerce of the state’s cattle.
“We’ve been getting a lot of pressure legislatively asking why we’re spending money testing cattle from outside of the risk area that don’t have any risk at all,” says Logan. “It’s a very legitimate question. It’s difficult to say there’s a purpose. We could put more money into the area of concern and do a better job of prevention and detection if we were to minimize the amount of testing on cattle coming from outside the area.”
The Wyoming Livestock Board can be reached at 307-777-7515. Jennifer Womack is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.