Montana State Veterinarian, Dr. Zaluski, presented a revised Brucellosis Action Plan to the Board of Livestock on Tuesday, Nov. 18. He amended the plan based on comments he received during the plan’s comment period and at several town meetings. Most notably, the plan has been changed from a three area plan to a two area plan based on county boundaries and encompassing Beaverhead, Madison, Gallatin, Park, Sweet Grass, Stillwater and Carbon Counties in the Area 1: Special Focus Area. All producers living in these seven counties will be required to complete a risk assessment with the Department of Livestock. Testing and other requirements will depend on the result of this assessment. To see the new plan please click here. (A preliminary budget is included in the plan.)
Zaluski said that many comments suggested that we do no testing and wait out the time required to regain our brucellosis-free status. He said that he had spoken with APHIS and the “do nothing” option, was not an option if we hoped to ever regain our class-free status.
Zaluski also said that a bulk of the comments referred to the need for more involvement from the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. He said FWP has committed to participate in herd plans that are developed in the special focus area.
After Zaluski presented the revised BAP, Chairman Bill Hedstrom allowed the public to comment before the board decided whether or not to take action on the plan. Several members of the public commented on the expansion of Area 1 to include all of seven counties. One speaker was not in favor of this move, preferring the three area plan because fewer ranchers would be affected by potential testing requirements. Others said that other state vets are going to impose restrictions by county anyway so the two area plan makes more sense. Plus, many said the two area plan is more easily enforced by the department, more easily understood by ranchers and will lessen the movement testing requirements compared to the three area plan.
Some commenters asked for clarification on the risk assessments and what they entail, especially since they will be the cornerstone of the plan. What would the role of FWP be in the risk assessments?
Many commenters said that the plan does nothing to address the real problem of diseased wildlife and asked why we should be in a hurry to get our class free status back when we have done nothing to change what caused us to be downgraded in the first place. Others encouraged the board to get going on the plan.
Meg Smith, who resigned from the Board of Livestock at the last meeting, spoke during the public comment time and asked rhetorically, “Who has authority over diseased animals in the state of Montana? The Department of Livestock.” Smith then read from the laws that proved her statement. She encouraged the Department to add language in the Brucellosis Action Plan that asserted that authority and then take action on diseased wildlife based on these laws. “Is the board of Livestock going to follow these laws? I sure hope so,” she said.
Debbie Barrett, a rancher and state legislator from southwest Montana spoke in opposition to the plan. She acknowledged that the new plan is an improvement on the previous plan but said, “The premise of your action plan, I believe, is a bailout of the federal government who has jurisdiction over Yellowstone National Park and they can’t manage it. The federal government is responsible for the disease-affected wildlife coming into this area. I’m opposed to treating cattle producers in Southwestern Montana any different than other ranchers. It is blatantly obvious that the executive branch has already written off the livestock producers in Southwestern Montana…sacrificed them, so to speak, in order to protect the other livestock producers in Montana. This approach will not address or solve the problem, which is diseased wildlife.” She said further, “The Department of Livestock, whose mission is to control and eradicate animal disease, isn’t addressing the diseased wildlife. They are recommending that the agricultural producers alone must bear the burden of expensive testing.”
Errol Rice, executive vice president of MSGA, commented that the Brucellosis Action Plan needs to better address the wildlife component, and explain how the adaptive management changes to the Interagency Bison Management Plan will fit into the bigger picture. “I know from talking with Marty that we have tried to keep the IBMP separate from the over arching Brucellosis Action Plan,” Rice said, “but I feel that we have to be able to clearly and definitively articulate what the Montana DOL will be agreeing to as far as operating procedures for the upcoming bison management season, so we can articulate and defend those decisions to our trading partners.”
After further discussion from the board, the board passed a motion to begin work on risk assessments for the two-area plan.
Next, Zaluski discussed the meetings of the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners to agree on “adaptive management changes” to the plan for the upcoming bison operating season. He explained that the partners have agreed to let bison inhabit the Horse Butte area because the property that formerly had cattle has been sold and no longer has cattle. Zaluski said that because there are no cattle, there is no risk of bison and cattle commingling on the butte. There is not a number that triggers management action (in other words, the partners will tolerate an unlimited number of bison in the area), as long as they stay in that area and do not cross certain spatial “trigger points” for management. (Currently the IBMP states that only up to 100 head of tested, seronegative bison are allowed on Horse Butte). Zaluski also told the board that the partners have agreed to allow more tolerance for bull bison in Montana because they pose an “certainly undetermined but very low” risk of transmitting brucellosis to cattle.
“The opinion that I have as State Veterinarian is that we are still treating risk as being the number one priority and it is not being compromised through these kinds of activities,” Zaluski said.