Friday, February 8, 2013

Back From the Brink, Back to the Brink?

In the spring of 1805, Lewis and Clark arrived in the eastern part of what is now Montana state. They reported that this territory was teeming with wildlife, which brought in numerous hunters, trappers, pioneers and homesteaders. Due to hunting for food sources, sport and profit, the elk of Montana, as well as other species, were nearly wiped out.

By 1910, some estimates put Montana's elk population around 3000-5000. "As the open valleys and lowlands of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (habitat and forage for the elk) were increasingly farmed and ranched, and communities and transportation routes sprang up, herd migratory patterns were cut short or eliminated.The elk found old travels routes blocked by fences, traditional wintering grounds studded by homes, and forage usurped by domestic sheep and cattle." "The wanton killing of elk for their canine upper teeth began about 1904 in Jackson Hole. The Tuskers, as they were called, were blood brothers of the buffalo tongue hunters, mercenaries who killed buffalo for only that eipcurean delicacy. Thousands of elk were slaughtered for their teeth, which at peak prices brought ten dollars a pair." Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of Our National Elk Herd, Bruce L. Smith, 2012, pg. 20. "By the early 1800s, subsistence, market, and hide hunting had almost eliminated elk east of the Mississippi River. This hunting continued to reduce elk in the western United States, and elk were gone from eastern Montana by the mid-1880s and were also heavily impacted in western Montana." FWP Elk Plan

This decimation of Montana's wildlife has been referred to as, "the brink."

Elk- like the bison - were vanishing, and like the bison, they found refuge in Yellowstone National Park. The establishment of YNP, in 1872, and its remoteness was a major factor in preserving elk in North America. In the early 1900's people saw that conservation and re-introduction would be necessary to revitalize elk numbers in various states. "During the late teens and 1920s, local and national sentiment for protecting and expanding existing elk herds became stronger. Many local sportsmen’s clubs were formed with a prime purpose of preserving elk." - Elk Plan. In 1913, a hundred years ago, Montana established the Sun River Game Preserve as a refuge from hunters and free from the competition for forage by livestock. There was still much competition for forage. Some farmers and ranchers were shooting elk to protect the forage for their domesticated livestock.

A prominent case involved C. R. Rathbone, of the Circle H, near Augusta, in Lewis and Clark County. Mr. Rathbone acquired the land in 1931. It was already evident that his ranch was part of an established migratory and winter forage habitat for the elk. He had not availed himself of the remedies available through the Fish and Game. To "deal" with the forage competition he advertised for machine gunners, in the Great Falls Tribune, to help kill a thousand elk, but they did not arrive to dispatch any elk. On March 3, 1939, Rathbone shot an elk himself, out of season. After killing the elk, he sent a telegram to the state warden at the Fish and Game Commission in Helena. They sent a deputy game warden out, who surveyed the situation and arrested Rathbone. I have a copy of the Montana vs. C.R. Rathbone Montana Supreme Court decision, which is very enlightening. A number of people are familiar with the oft quoted couple lines of the decision:

"Montana is one of the areas in the nation where wild game abounds. It is regarded as one of the greatest of the state's natural resources, as well as the chief attraction for visitors. Wild game existed here long before the coming of man. One who acquires property in Montana does so with notice and knowledge of the presence of wild game and presumably is cognizant of its natural habits. Wild game does not possess the power to distinguish between fructus naturales (In property law, fructus naturales are the natural fruits of the land on which they arise) and fructus industriales (The fruits of industry, meaning crops and other annual plants that must be sown each year in order to produce.), and cannot like domestic animals be controlled through the owner. Accordingly a property owner in this state must recognize the fact that there may be some injury to property or inconvenience from wild game for which there is no recourse." 

It is important to note, that through this entire legal document, not once is brucellosis mentioned. Rathbone is not wanting the elk killed because they are a source of brucellosis, he wanted them killed because they were competition for forage. And yes, elk were known to be infected with brucellosis by 1940 (Brucellosis first detected in wild elk in 1930).  

Through serious conservation and management efforts, "Statewide, post-season elk numbers increased from an estimated 8,000 in 1922 to 22,000 in 1940, 40,000 in 1951, 55,000 in 1978, and an estimated 130,000 to 160,000 today."- FWP Elk Plan  Now that is back from the brink! So where are the elk heading now? Back to the brink with Test and Slaughter? 

On January 31, 2013, HB 312  held its hearing before the Agriculture Committee, not the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. That alone gives you an idea of what is taking place. This bill is sponsored by Representative Alan Redfield (R), a rancher of the Davis Creek Ranch in Livingston. HB 312 deals with wildlife, particularly elk, concerning brucellosis, and it was submitted to an ag committee. Not only is this bill a Test and Slaughter bill, but it would force the Fish, Wildlife and Parks to pay for this required elk slaughter. All for the supposed protection of livestock, from a disease that the European cattle brought into the wildlife in the first place. 

This bill advocates the mass slaughter of elk, under the banner of, "Save our cattle from brucellosis," but it forces the hunters to pay for it to boot, while obfuscating (intentionally bewilder) the science of brucellosis. Brucella abortus is a zoonotic disease, which means it can spread from other species to humans or vice versa. It causes the abortion of an animal's first offspring the majority of the time. Despite brucellosis amongst wildlife, even with some of the first offspring being aborted, wildlife have lived with this disease and are still increasing in numbers in conservation areas. But the livestock industry view domesticated animals as a commodity. That means an aborted calf is lost revenue. This is a financial issue.

So let's look at brucellosis here in Montana. How devastating is this disease in cattle to warrant massive Test and Slaughter campaigns against elk and bison and the beaucoup (that's French for a helluva lot)  FWP/hunter bucks to fund this slaughter? 

In 2008, Paradise Valley (1 cow). In 2010,  Gallatin (1 domestic bison cow) county, on Turner's Flying D Ranch (speaking with Eric Liska of MTDOL, he stated that there were other bison, but no specific numbers could be provided, that were not cultured, but simply tested seropositive, meaning they had antibodies, showing they had been exposed but were not cultured to see if they were infective. I asked for a location on their website confirming the data and none could be provided.) In 2011, 2 cattle herds had positives in Park (6 on one ranch - confirmed at the Brucellosis in Yellowstone Bison, Science Review and Workshop, presenter Dr. Marty Zaluski), and Madison (1 bull) counties. According to MTDOL, the genotype indicates the brucellosis came from elk. So unless the MTDOL, did not release other cases of cattle brucellosis to their news, there have only been 9 domestic livestock cases of brucellosis in 5 years. MTDOL Livestock News Releases  9 cases of brucellosis to warrant the massive killings of 2009 YNP bison for  these last 5 years, and now they are trying to make law, the Test and Slaughter of untold numbers of elk at a massive cost to FWP / hunters.  

During the Agriculture Committee Hearing on House Bill 312, the first opponent speaker was Randy Newberg, "The point I always try to make, really worked hard on the last couple of years, meeting with stock growers, meeting with others, is the importance of how the hunter and livestock producer are actually in the same boat, on the issue of brucellosis. There's no doubt that a solution to brucellosis is good for all of us.  But what seems to happen is, I feel like it is ground hog day or something, because here we are 2 years later, and we are looking at a bill that's almost identical to the same bill that we had in the 2011 session. And again, it's funding this issue on the backs of hunters. Not that we don't want to help, we want to see solutions, but I try to explain to a lot of our audience the complication of the brucellosis issue and now that it's infecting elk, a lot of hunters are really taking interest in this.

When it was just bison, because we very seldom get to hunt bison, there wasn't that much interest in the hunting community. There's a lot of interest now. And the biggest ally of the agriculture industry is going to have, in bringing pressure to APHIS, in getting the bacteria of brucellosis off the Select Terrorist Agent list, is going to be the political power of hunters. And it seems like there's a policy of no good deed goes unpunished, as it relates to the hunters. And I try to explain to them the complications in the history of this disease, especially in Yellowstone National Park, and I heard some of the previous testimony saying, well now it's in the elk. Yep, it is and I agree. I bet any money those elk got that from the bison. But, the hunters who do a little research, they say, 'Where did the bison get it?' Well, pretty much, all data points that they got it from livestock. And, so here we are, however many years forward, we are asking hunters, 'You guys get to write the check for something that came from livestock.' That's just, it's very hard to explain that to a hunter, why he should write the check to pay for something that came from livestock, and now it's the livestock industry, which I understand, all the economic concerns, ...I don't think this is the proper solution."

Randy's wager that the elk got brucellosis from the bison, made me question. I have read the academic papers: On the Origin of Brucellosis in Bison of Yellowstone National Park: A Review, by Meagher and Meyer;  as well as a host of papers that cite this and Mohler's original study in 1917. In their introduction, Meagher and Meyer state, "The question of origin cannot be answered directly, but the general consensus of experts on brucellosis is the B. abortus was introduced by cattle."   

So what of Randy's wager?  I began a search, online, as well as speaking with professionals in the elk and brucellosis field, trying to find an answer as to the brucellosis origins for elk. I was referred to even more experts. What it amounts to with elk, is that after the time that European cattle were introduced, there were no wildlife biologists that were heavily studying the elk, to be able to determine origin. Tom Roffe (PhD, DVM) stated that elk (cervids) are not as good a reservoir for Brucella abortus as cattle and bison (bovines) are. Any determination would be circumstantial. While I did not find the answer I was seeking (hard science, concrete origin) Tom Roffe gave me a better answer than the question I was asking.

Roffe stated that the origin of elk brucellosis was a red herring. He has spent much time and money into research concerning brucellosis. Tom Roffe has written and been party to quite a number of academic papers on the subject, as well as being interviewed in the documentary - Feeding the Problem, involving the elk feeding grounds. He stated, "A lot of money and resources have been used, just so we can point the finger." Pointing the finger does nothing to stop any transmission of brucellosis. Knowing the origins of the elk brucellosis will not stop it from being spread today or the future, either to domestic cattle or the wildlife. So my origin quest is a moot point.

Below is the testimony of Mark Albrecht. And like any science field, this subject has it's own language. So here are a few terms for the lay people, such as myself, so that you can better understand the testimony. Seroprevalence is the number of persons/animals in a population (prevalence) that test positive for a specific disease based on serology (blood serum) specimens. Identifying the occurrence of disease is usually based upon the presence of antibodies for that disease. Seropositive is a positive blood test result for an individual/animal, showing that they have been exposed to the disease or were vaccinated and now carry the antibodies. This is comparable to those of us that had Chicken Pox as children. We now carry the antibodies of that disease in our blood. A blood test would reveal that we were seropositive for Chicken Pox. But this does not mean we currently have it, or worse are presently communicable/infectious. HB 312 does not target infectious elk, it targets all elk that were ever exposed.

Mark Albrecht, DVM & Elk Brucellosis Working Group Member was the 5th to speak, clarifying major points in the brucellosis issue, "There's several things, I'll try not to run on too long, but there seems to be a really consistent piece of misinformation in this brucellosis puzzle, that I would like to try and clear up. Seroprevalence does not equal infection. Infection does not equal infectious. Okay, because an animal is seropositive means it's been exposed, it does not mean that it will transfer the disease. Even if an animal has brucellosis it does not mean it can transfer the disease.

So we need to quit getting on the bandwagon, of saying seroprevalence equals infection. If we are going to talk about seroprevalence, ends up being seropositive. If we were to use, there's really two ways, and I understand what my friend Rick Gibson's saying, as far as not wanting to do test and slaughter.  If we are going to reduce seroprevalence, there's effectively two good ways to do it - we can vaccinate, we can test and slaughter. There's no good vaccine in elk right now. If we want to look at seropositive, Strain 19 is probably the better vaccine in elk, the old version that we used. Any elk vaccinated with Strain 19, will turn up seropositive. RB 51, the newer vaccine, doesn't work very well in elk, would not make them seropositive, so we don't have a vaccine. What's left? Test and Slaughter. That's the only way we can go.

It would be great to get rid of brucellosis. That would be fantastic. Like to get rid of knapweed, leafy spurge and a lot of other things too. We are not going to get rid of sero-positive animals. Certainly, as much as it's nice to blame Fish, Wildlife and Parks, because it's always nice to have a fall guy, they alone have no possible way of getting rid of brucellosis, within the state of Montana. Not when you have Yellowstone Park, not when you have animals moving between Idaho and Wyoming. It's not gonna happen.

And so, sero-positive is the wrong thing to be looking at. Looking at sero-prevalence is the wrong thing to be looking at. So let's pick the low hanging fruit, let's go with what is easy. Randy Newberg talked about it. Nobody wants to increase infections in cattle. You got agreement on that. The Elk Brucellosis Working Group said, 'Let's work together to minimize transmission to cattle. And I put forward that that's the way to go. Let's do that in a consensus building manner, not in what could be viewed and I don't know that this is at all true cause I don't know Representative Redfield at all, but could be viewed as activist legislation, as far as it's divisive, it's pushing, it's bringing the sides apart. And I encourage you to read, I know John Anderson, one of the Elk Working Group members, also wanted to be here, but couldn't, but sent me a letter -

John C. Anderson, Ruby Dell Ranch, Alder, MT and Elk Brucellosis Working Group Member,
'As Rancher within the Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area, a member of The Fish Wildlife and Parks Elk/Brucellosis Working Group, and a Montana Stockgrowers Association member, I wish to comment on HB 312 before the House Ag Committee today.

I must stand in opposition to HB 312 as presented for the following reasons.

  • The Elk/Brucellosis Working group worked for six months or more this past year to put together a plan to deal with livestock and brucellosis infected elk, which has the potential to bring stakeholders together in a cooperative effort to deal with this issue in the Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area.
  • HB 312 serves to polarize rather than bring people and groups together to address this issue.
  • Requiring Fish Wildlife and Parks to “pay for brucellosis surveillance and prevalence reduction in wildlife” could conceivably use their whole annual budget and would likely have limited success in solving the brucellosis problem in wildlife.
  • State Veterinarians in the states Montana exports cattle to will be very unlikely to accept the requirement that the order would expire only one year after the last case of brucellosis is detected in livestock.

I feel this bill is very premature given the efforts Montana Department of Livestock and Fish Wildlife and Parks have and are continuing to put into the brucellosis issue within the DSA. It would be more beneficial for the Legislature and all Montanans to work with the efforts which are in process rather than placing heavy-handed restrictions on these agencies.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I urge the House Ag Committee to reject HB 312 as introduced.

John C Anderson, Ruby Dell Ranch Inc.'

"Now that's from my ranching friend John Anderson. So I think if we can work with a citizens group, local groups on a local landscape, we can bring people together, we can bring ranchers, sportsmen and landowners together and we can minimize transmission, for the better of everybody, that would be the most scientific, fiscal, responsible way to go. Again, I would urge you to not support HB 312. Thank you." 

Using Test and Slaughter to Reduce Prevalence of Brucellosis in Elk Attending Feedgrounds in the Pinedale Elk Herd Unit of Wyoming; Results of a 5 Year Pilot Project, "Thus, capturing 35% to 60% of cow elk attending a feedground and removing seropositive individuals over a 5 year period does not appear to prevent transmission events." Now if capturing 35-60 percent of the cow elk in a feedlot and baited situation doesn't prevent transmission events, what kind of success is ever possible for a wild, free roaming elk population like we have here in Montana? Test and Slaughter is never going to succeed on our landscape, especially since we have elk that travel between Wyoming and Idaho.
 Test and Slaughter Paper

Dr. Bruce L. Smith's Letter to HB 312 Ag Committee

The 12 member Elk Brucellosis Working Group, produced the Brucellosis Working Group Proposed Recommendation. 3 of the members were in attendance at this hearing. Rick Gibson testified as a proponent for HB 312, with the qualification that this was not a "Test and Slaughter" bill. 

  Dustin Monroe, the 6th speaker, expressed that this bill was an effort of the stockgrowers, "eliminating your competitor." This is a reference to the forage competition between the elk/bison and the livestock industry, which not only utilizes their private lands, but many also lease public lands for grazing or haying, which wildlife have rights to. There has been a growing battle for grass/foraging in the west, which has drawn major attention in numerous research books such as, Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West; Who Controls Public Lands and Beyond the Rangeland Conflict: Towards a West That Works.

The 7th speaker, Justin Sakalis, with the Montana Audubon, stated a very important point concerning Test and Slaughter, which had just been released that morning in the Fiscal Note, "Control of brucellosis in wildlife, surveillance and prevalence reduction management, which is also called, 'Test and Slaughter'. And we know that it's 'Test and Slaughter' because, in fact, it says it in the fiscal note, 'animals that test positive will be slaughtered on sight.' There is no indication that this method works in dispersed wildlife populations in elk, like we have here in Montana."

View the Fiscal Note,  Bottom of page 1, point 3, second sentence, "Captured animals that test positive will be slaughtered on site."

Glenn Hockett, the 9th speaker is President of the Gallatin Wildlife Association (Hunter/Fisher Conservation group) stated, "I want to concur with a lot of the proponents (per Glenn Hockett, he meant to say OPPONENTS). Many of our group went over to the Madison Valley, worked with John Scully and other ranchers on this issue. We've also participated on the Bison Citizen Working Group, as well as the Elk Working Group. I think this bill does build animosity, rather than partnerships. In particular, I would refer you to line 20, where it mentions the administrator shall... The administrator is the state vet. Marty's sitting in the back here, I hope he will testify. But, I interpret this as a shifting of major burden upon the department of livestock over elk. That will really kick a sleeping giant. This will wake up a lot of sportsmen, not only in Montana, but across the United States.And so, I would urge you to think twice about this. I think the local working groups is the way to go. We're trying to work together to minimize the risk of transmission. No one wants another cow to get this disease. We won't be completely effective in that, but the DSA helps, it's a great management tool. And I think this is comparable to cheat grass. I mean we've got it. We can't get rid of it. It would be nice, but brucellosis is going to be here and we have to learn how to manage it."

The Brucellosis Working Group Proposed Recommendations (which a number of the opponents to HB 312, spoke of and advocated, including Marty Zaluski, the State Veterinarian with the Department of Livestock), was approved by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners January 2013. While I and others had some concerns with some of the language in this document, as well as who would comprise these local working groups, worried that it could lead to Test and Slaughter, it is a work in progress and does represent varied parties coming to the table and working toward an objective of reducing the transmission of brucellosis to livestock. As stated before by several opponents, no one wants to see the livestock contract brucellosis. But, after spending a century to bring Montana's elk back from the brink, are we now going to start Test and Slaughter, sending their numbers back to the brink? House Bill 312 would do this.

The following is the list of the Opponents, in order, to HB 312, who testified during the Hearing:

Randy Newberg, Headwaters Sportsmen Association; Bryan Sparks; Joe Gutkoski, Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation; John Scully, Madison Valley rancher; Mark Albrecht, DVM, Elk Brucellosis Working Group member; Dustin Monroe; Justin Sakalis, Montana Audubon; Ward Olson; Glenn Hockett, President, Gallatin Wildlife Association; Rob Gregoire; Sam Milodragovich, Montana Sportsmen Alliance & Skyline Sportsmen; George Golie, Montana Wildlife Federation; Ben Lamb, National Wildlife Federation; Ken MacDonald, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Division Administrator; Becky Weed, owner Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool Company; Marty Zaluski, State Veterinarian, Montana Department of Livestock; Richard Douglass, Zoonotic Disease Ecologist, Elk Brucellosis Working Group Member.

Help stop the proposed massive test and slaughter of Montana's elk.
Please take a moment to send a message to the Montana Legislature:
Call: 406-444-4800  or fill in the online form and submit-

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HB 312 Video Stream
Click on the third link, under the screen, HB 312 - Revise laws relating to brucellosis - Alan Redfield.

Kathryn QannaYahu

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