Brucellosis identified in two elk outside DSA
As a result of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) voluntary hunter surveillance program, brucellosis was identified in two elk harvested in the Big Horn Mountains.
“We have now identified cases of brucellosis in elk outside of the designated surveillance area (DSA),” comments Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) Director Leanne Correll. “There is no livestock brucellosis outside of the DSA and no indication of cattle exposure, but there could be impacts for livestock producers.”
The elk, a cow and bull, were harvested in Hunt Area 40 in late October 2012.
“At this point, we don’t know how or where these elk were exposed to brucellosis,” said WGFD Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik. “We will increase our sampling for brucellosis in this area during the 2013 elk hunting season to begin to get a better idea of how prevalent the disease might be.”
“We want to be as proactive as possible on deciding how to handle this,” says Correll.
Now that brucellosis has been identified in wildlife outside the DSA, Correll notes that the brucellosis coordination team, WLSB and WGFD have begun working to address the situation accordingly.
“There could be consequences from our trading partner states, so we’ve got to proactively look at what to do,” Correll says. “First of all, we need to protect our Wyoming livestock producers outside the DSA.”
While currently there have not been any red flags from trading partner states that would indicate trade restrictions, Correll notes that they have worked to contact surrounding state veterinarians.
“This certainly could cause our trading partner states to put additional restrictions on Wyoming livestock,” she explains. “They have had concerns about bringing brucellosis into their states. We want to have these conversations up front, and we will continue to share information.”
Additionally, Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan will be attending the Western States Animal Health Association meeting during the week of March 18 where they will be able to get additional information on the concerns of trading partner states.
Correll notes that the WLSB has begun to gather information to assess the risk of transmission of brucellosis to livestock.
In starting initial assessment, Correll explains that they are working to identify where elk move and migrate in the Big Horn Mountains in relation to where cattle are during high-risk exposure periods.
“The highest risk time of transmission is between Feb. 15 and June 15,” says Correll. “We are looking at where the elk are in the winter and where the cattle are at that time.”
Though Correll notes that many of the grazing allotments are late summer and early fall allotments, there may be little chance of commingling between elk and cattle.
Making a plan
After more information is gathered based on the risks for transmission, Correll notes that they will begin to determine a list of options to address the situation.
“Expansion of the DSA would have impacts that are much greater than we want to see,” she says.
“Our approach will be to minimize impacts to livestock producers while proactively conducting risk assessments and determining surveillance testing needs,” adds Correll.
Other potential options include increased livestock surveillance testing.
In their strategies, she further notes that they are striving to minimize impacts to livestock producers while also minimizing risk of transmission of brucellosis to cattle.
“No decision will be made without lots of discussion with the Brucellosis Coordination Team, WLSB, WGFD and producers,” she emphasizes. “Working with producers is always a positive thing, and that is where we want to start – by having conversations.”
Correll also notes that Logan will also work with local veterinarians on risk assessments and will also be working with producers.
“We are looking to do more herd plans to determine risks on a producer-by-producer basis,” she adds. “Based on the risk assessments, we have been developing herd plans in the DSA.”
Overall, the WLSB is striving to achieve a proactive approach in dealing with the disease discovery.
Because of the potential impacts of brucellosis on area livestock producers, the WGFD and WLSB are working together to establish a meeting to provide information.
While details are not yet available, a public meeting will be held on April 4 in the Greybull area.
“We will get the information to livestock producers and other interested folks when we have it set,” WGFD Public Information Officer Eric Keszler comments.
WGFD and WLSB personnel will be available at the meeting to answer questions, provide education and get more information.
Additionally, the Brucellosis Coordination Team will be meeting on April 3 in Lander to discuss handling the issue.
Correll adds, “We really appreciate the efforts of the WGFD and the Governor’s Office, as well as the collaboration we have with them, in addressing this situation.”
“Finding brucellosis outside the DSA is concerning to all of us,” says Correll, “but we have had very positive comments in response to how proactively we handle brucellosis in Wyoming.”
WGFD Surveillance programs
Recent cases of brucellosis identified in elk outside of the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) were found as a result of Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) voluntary surveillance program.
WGFD Public Information Officer Eric Keszler says, “We mail kits to hunters in certain areas each year. They have a test tube and instructions on how to collect blood samples.”
Keszler notes that they send sample kits to hunters within the DSA each year, but the rest of the state is sampled on a rotating basis.
“We do surveillance in the DSA every year to try to keep an eye on what the prevalence rates are in that area, because we know brucellosis is established,” Keszler explains. “The rest of the state is divided into quarters, and we do surveillance in a different quarter each year.”
With the discovery of brucellosis in Hunt Area 40 in the Big Horn Mountains, he mentions that WGFD will increase surveillance in that area to attempt to better understand the prevalence of the disease.
“A big key in this situation will be doing our surveillance next fall to see how widespread the disease might be,” Keszler says, also mentioning that working with the Wyoming Livestock Board and producers will be important to understand next steps.
Wyoming Livestock Board Director Leanne Correll adds, “We really don’t have enough information right now to assess the actual risk.”
To learn more about brucellosis in Wyoming, visit wyomingbrucellosis.com.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.