HELENA – Montana state regulators are proposing additional requirements for ranchers to protect against the spread of brucellosis.
The Montana Department of Livestock currently has a designated surveillance area, or DSA, for brucellosis. The area covers about 7,100 square miles, including parts of Beaverhead, Gallatin, Madison and Park Counties. Inside the area, there are additional testing and identification requirements for animals. All female cattle in those four counties must be vaccinated against the disease.
The department now wants to require vaccinations for female cattle older than 12 months in the five counties that border the DSA: Broadwater, Carbon, Jefferson, Stillwater and Sweet Grass Counties.
DOL also plans to extend the surveillance area by 300 square miles in Beaverhead County, after an elk in the Tendoy Mountains tested positive for exposure to brucellosis earlier this year.
Brucellosis is a disease that infects cattle, bison and elk. It can cause female animals to have failed pregnancies or give birth to weak calves. The disease was largely eliminated in Montana cattle, but has been transmitted in some limited cases from wildlife, mostly free-roaming elk.
Dr. Tahnee Szymanski, the assistant state veterinarian, said the proposed changes will give the state additional tools to keep the disease from spreading.
“We’re not able to surveil the entire boundary every year, and we know that wildlife movement patterns, elk movement patterns may change,” she said. “By having that buffer zone around, should we miss a movement of positive wildlife out of that area, we can hopefully minimize the impact of that, because cattle in the surrounding area are vaccinated.”
Jay Bodner, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said DOL leaders met with ranchers earlier this year to explain the reasons . He said most of his members have not expressed any opposition to the proposals.
“We want to keep the integrity of the vaccination program, the DSA program,” said Bodner.
Bodner said many ranchers outside the four counties where vaccination is required do it anyway, as a standard practice and as a way to improve the marketability of their animals.
The Department of Livestock will hold a series of public meetings in the counties affected by the changes:
- July 17, 9 a.m., Absarokee Elementary School
- July 17, 2 p.m., Bridger Elementary School
- July 18, 9 a.m., Big Timber, American Legion
- July 23, 10 a.m., Boulder, Jefferson High School
- July 24, 10 a.m., Townsend School
The department will continue taking public comment on the proposals through Aug. 3. You can find the full list of proposed changes at the agency’s website.