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Brucellosis team debates NBEZ proposal

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Cody – The controversial National Brucellosis Elimination Zone proposal was a main topic on the agenda of the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team’s April 16 meeting in Cody.
    Discussion on the proposal came from the team’s members, representing a variety of stakeholders from around the state, including state and federal personnel and members from both ranching and wildlife interests.
    Upon the introduction of the NBEZ topic, Wyoming State Veterinarian Walt Cook said the reintroduction of bison to the Wind River Reservation is non-controversial compared to this issue.
    Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarian Bret Combs said, “We’ve been involved in brucellosis eradication for years. All the brucellosis found in the country in domestic cattle in the last few years has been in the Greater Yellowstone Area. The current set of rules under which we’re operating don’t totally apply to our situation and the way the disease is moving and what’s going on in the wildlife interface.”
    He said the agency has been looking at the rules and regulations to see what can be done to change them. “We know we can’t keep doing the same thing, and our goal is still the eradication of brucellosis in the U.S. regardless of the source, but we want to get out of the brucellosis business we’ve been in for 70 years,” said Combs.
    He said the NBEZ proposal would acknowledge that total eradication and elimination can’t happen right now, that steps have to be taken toward the goal because of the wildlife issue.
    “There are some things we need to look at to see how they can fit with the new strategy and focus in this area. We know we can’t look only at options put into place that help producers in that area market their cattle, because there has to be the overall concern of protecting the entire industry and the country,” continued Combs.
    “It’s a tough line – how to help those producers and at the same time control brucellosis,” he said.
    Cook said the NBEZ proposal is based on the international concept of regionalization, similar to what Argentina has in place for foot and mouth disease. “The concept is to declare a country free of a disease, except for a certain area,” he said.
    The NBEZ would eliminate class status in the U.S., because the whole country would be under one status of “brucellosis-free.”
    “Along with that, where now Wyoming gets two brucellosis cases in two years or we lose our status, with the NBEZ that wouldn’t happen because it wouldn’t exist. Within the zone you’re allowed to have as many cases as you have.”
    He said it would benefit producers outside the zone because they wouldn’t have to test cattle ever again or worry about marketability. However, people would still have to think about it within the zone.
    Cook said he hopes, if a plan comes to pass, that Wyoming would be able to use restrictions already in the Wyoming Livestock Board’s Chapter 2 rules.
    “My proposal would be to allow our Chapter 2 rules to serve as the requirement in our zone, and to allow additional flexibility for those who may be under quarantine.”
    “I’m hoping there would also be a benefit for folks within that area,” said Cook. “Now, when a producer gets brucellosis, they have to depopulate or our state status has consequences. Also, when the most recent herd in Daniel was infected, the reason he depopulated was because he was under quarantine and couldn’t use his summer allotments and he couldn’t operate anymore.
    “I’m arguing that, if we adopt this proposal, we need to be able to work with them to clean up their herd and avoid depopulation by not putting the heavy restrictions in place. This could be made to benefit those inside the zone as well.”
    Combs stressed that at this point NBEZ remains a proposal, not a plan. Currently APHIS is requesting comments on the proposal, which Combs said he expects to publish in the Federal Register within the first few weeks of May, after which the agency will take more public comment.
    When APHIS began with the proposal the goal was to have a plan in place by mid-summer, but Combs said that plan has changed. “That’s not going to happen. Now we’re going back to meet with producers and stakeholders before the proposal’s officially published,” he said, adding that producer meetings are also in the works, at least two in each state. Jackson and Casper have been proposed in Wyoming.
    “Hopefully through that and through comments from the Federal Register notice we can come up with a plan to put in effect for the zone around Yellowstone,” said Combs. “This gives us an excellent opportunity to look at existing rules and regulations and change them to fit the situation.”
    University of Wyoming College of Agriculture Dean Frank Galey said he was concerned that, with the NBEZ, herds coming from the area would be branded with a scarlet letter. “Will others buy cattle from a herd in a zone like that, and will this new zone hurt marketability?” he questioned.
    However, Cook responded that he thinks Wyoming has already created that effect. “Other states are well aware of the brucellosis problem, and if we didn’t have testing requirements, I think other states would have them anyway. Fair or not fair, those producers are already in that situation.”
    Lost Cabin rancher Rob Hendry commented that producers in the zone don’t want to be left in the cold. “We might do away with some of the restrictions on the whole state, but what do we say to producers inside the area that don’t want to be forgotten?”
    Cook agreed that is a legitimate concern. “How do we know, 10 years from now, that the state and federal budgets will still be helping folks in that area?”
    Another aspect of the proposal that could result in the entire state falling within the zone is the discovery of a broader distribution of infected wildlife.  “It’s imperative to not lose interest in the disease, because as the disease in wildlife spreads the zone could get bigger and bigger and be the whole state of Wyoming,” said Combs. “On the other hand, if prevalence reduces, the zone could shrink. The zone will be elastic and expand if the wildlife situation expands.”
    Wyoming Livestock Board member and Pinedale rancher Albert Sommers, said he remains very concerned about the implications of the NBEZ proposal for producers. “As we looked into the nitty gritty of the proposal, even though it was vague, there was some scary surveillance proposed,” he said, calling it the “National Brucellosis Expedience Zone” proposal.
    “I know our approach has been slow, but we’ve made progress and Wyoming’s best approach is still through this task force, working to get things done through a unified approach,” continued Sommers. “I will go to the bat on this issue as much as I can to stop this. If I had a recommendation it would be to can this.”
    Galey agreed, saying, “This team has been able to work well between wildlife and livestock, and there is a concern about out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I worry about maintaining support from the federal government and the state legislature.”
    Currently APHIS has pulled the original NBEZ document from their website.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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