Schwartz: Wyoming needs to be better prepared for disease emergencies
Cheyenne – “Protecting our industry is critical,” says Wyoming Livestock Board Director Jim Schwartz. “It’s an $850 million business in Wyoming and we need to be better prepared.”
Schwartz says his agency doesn’t currently have the personnel necessary to adequately carry out its duties. SF32, “Wyoming livestock health and emergency disease program,” sets out to help the agency secure additional staff and resources.
Sponsored by the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee, SF32 originally called for a $920,000 appropriation allowing for three new field veterinarians, an information technology specialist and livestock health administrative staff for the Riverton office. When the legislation passed out of the Senate early February, it had been pared back to one field veterinarian and $115,000 for salary and associated expenses.
“We really appreciate any help we can get,” says Schwartz, “but the truth is we need a lot more. We’ve got a lot more mobility in the livestock industry than we used to. We need to make sure we’re protecting our industry.”
Members of the House Ag Committee responded to Schwartz’s request when they worked the legislation Feb. 10 before sending it on to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration. If the positions are retained in the House, Schwartz says the legislation will head to a conference committee where members of the House and Senate will reach an agreement on the legislation.
Schwartz envisions the additional veterinarians working with the state’s private veterinarians and the ports of entry to ensure health papers are properly checked on animals entering the state. Given the increasing number of small livestock operators, he also says there’s a growing need for education. “They aren’t always acquainted with animal husbandry,” says Schwartz of those raising livestock on small acreages. “We need some educational outreach.”
As to where additional veterinarians would be located, Schwartz says one is needed in the Pinedale area to help producers in the Designated Surveillance Area for brucellosis in developing herd management plans. “With 900 to 1,000 producers in the DSA, we need to do risk assessments and herd plans with as many of those producers as we can,” says Schwartz.
If additional positions are secured, he says State Veterinarian Walter Cook and Assistant State Veterinarian Jim Logan will determine their locations.
As for the information technology specialist, Schwartz says the agency doesn’t currently have any computer support help. “This IT person would help with computerizing the brand program,” he says. “We currently have the financial resources, through a Homeland Security grant, to purchase the computers. We’d have 90 computers around state, which would require a huge amount of training and trouble shooting.”
“There is a need for at least another vet and an IT person to help with the brand program,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “I hope we can hold the money for at least those two positions.”
Wyoming Wool Growers Executive Vice President Bryce Reece says given challenges to brucellosis and other diseases, “they do need those positions.” He says, “They don’t have enough trained professionals.” Reece says it’s likely there will be interim topic discussions on the agency and its duties along with animal welfare issues.
“I’d like to figure out how to be more proactive,” says Schwartz of the need to be prepared and work to prevent diseases rather than being left to react to their presence. He says he’s also becoming increasingly convinced that Wyoming may need to look at its own state-level animal identification program.
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.