Since the second brucellosis diagnosis in two years prompted USDA officials to revoke Montana’s disease-free status, a national cattle group is turning its attention to the Yellowstone elk herds. Late last month, the U.S. Cattlemen Association (USCA) predictably called on federal officials to comprehensively control the park’s elk population to prevent contact between the brucellosis carrying wildlife and state bovine herds.
“The bison and elk herds within Yellowstone National Park are this nation’s last reservoir for bovine brucellosis,” USCA President Jon Wooster said in a press release. “Montana and Wyoming cattle producers have done all they can to manage the disease, but are at continued risk because of exposure to infection from wild bison and elk.”
According to a July 7 Associated Press report, the proposal to up elk regulations is currently being considered by “federal officials.” However, neither the USDA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife nor the Park Service could verify the existence of a formal proposal.
“There’s all sorts of people engaging in disparate talks on the issue,” says Yellowstone Park spokesman Al Nash. “There is no single specific proposal that has been submitted to any of the agencies that are responsible for wildlife management.”
But conservation groups say the talk is cause enough for concern. The highly controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan between five state and federal agencies has resulted in the death of more than 1,600 buffalo this winter alone. There are three bison herds in Yellowstone, and the cost to manage them runs millions of dollars each season. Elk in the Greater Yellowstone area number roughly 93,000.
Leaders of the Buffalo Field Campaign and the Gallatin Wildlife Association believe both the recent discovery of brucellosis in the Paradise Valley and another outside of Bridger last year can be sourced to Mexican corriente cattle, rather than bison or elk. The Montana cattle board and the owner of the brucellosis-stricken herd both came forward to challenge that theory last month.
“The thing that’s missing in these so-called discoveries is the source,” Gallatin Wildlife Association President Glenn Hockett replies. “If they can show evidence that this is elk, we want to see it.”