On Saturday morning, March 6, MSGA President, Tom Hougen, along with leaders from other Montana agriculture groups and agencies met with Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. Hougen had an opportunity to speak briefly and also presented a letter to the Secretary.
Hougen emphasized the need for more cooperation between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Interior to address brucellosis in the wildlife in and around Yellowstone National Park.
“I just stressed that Montana ranchers have done everything they can do to keep brucellosis out of their herds, now we need to get it out of wildlife,” Hougen said after the meeting.
In Hougen’s letter to Vilsack, he asked that USDA develop an action plan for brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area that includes: (1) creating a new, full-time GYA leadership position to be held by a veterinarian experienced with brucellosis who will work to create partnerships and coordinate efforts, and be the “go-to” resource person for the issue; (2) developing a strategic plan for moving forward with addressing the issue of mitigation strategies, eventual elimination of brucellosis from the GYA and research regarding brucellosis in the GYA; (3) developing appropriate MOUs with all involved entities, including wildlife authorities; and (4) clarifying federal funding support for mitigation strategies and other activities.
Hougen said that many of the leaders of agriculture groups commented on brucellosis and that the Secretary seemed to be taking notes on the comments.
“I think he did get an earful that brucellosis is a big concern in the state of Montana and that we need to address the wildlife side of it,” Hougen said.
Hougen’s letter also discussed the proposed use of eminent domain to obtain access to Forest Service lands through private property. Specifically, Hougen referenced the Cherry Creek Road dispute in South Central Montana.
“USDA’s use of eminent domain puts our ranch families at a big disadvantage, and as an alternative, we ask that USDA instead seek to provide public recreational access through a voluntary and willing seller,” the letter stated. “In the event this is not possible, USDA should identify and use routes that exclusively cross public lands from existing public roads or trails on those public lands, and avoid impacting private lands and private land values for perceived public good.”
Hougen said that Secretary Vilsack opened up the meeting with a few comments about his concerns for American agriculture and that his biggest concern was the decline of rural America.
“I gathered from his comments that he felt the government needed to help rural communities stay viable to keep food on the table for our nation,” Hougen said.
Hougen said he was impressed by the Secretary’s comments and by how well he seemed to listen to the comments that were made.