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Brucellosis Solution: Kill All Elk and Bison in Yellowstone National Park


AN Oklahoma newspaper believes all of Yellowstone's elk and bison should be killed in the name of brucellosis eradication.

Here's a novel solution to the woes Montana's livestock industry suffers from elk and bison in Yellowstone National Park: Kill them all. Yup, that's the panacea being promoted by an Oklahoma newspaper.

In an editorial published Monday, the Norman Transcript says the slaughter of the park's elk and bison is a logical solution to the spread of brucellosis, which can cause infected cattle to abort their fetuses. While the newspaper's scribes say the domestic livestock industry has come close to eradicating the disease, it adds that "the biggest impediment to total eradication is the presence of disease in the elk and bison herds in Yellowstone Park."

"If these wild beasts were miraculously turned into cattle, privately owned, there is no doubt we collectively, would require that the herds be eradicated ... slaughtered. Matter of fact, the law would demand it."

And then there's this passage:

No one disputes the grandeur, tradition and emotional connection of these mighty beasts to the West, but they have now become sickened. Typhoid Marys of the Range. Beautiful Yellowstone Park now stands as a pustule disseminating disease like Old Faithful spewing its sulfurous water, every time an infected cow elk or buffalo drops an aborted fetus.

Now, the newspaper doesn't mention that domestic cattle transmitted brucellosis to the park's elk and bison in the first place. And it doesn't touch on the elk and bison in nearby Grand Teton National Park. Nor does it detail how such a killing program would be carried out. After all, many of the estimated 30,000 elk that summer in Yellowstone also disperse into the surrounding forests in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. How would anyone know when all the brucellosis-infected elk are dead?

Nor does the paper mention any cost estimates of such a slaughter, nor any that might involve keeping domestic cattle out of elk and bison grazing areas or tied to development of a workable vaccine. And the paper doesn't mention how, once all the elk and bison are killed and replaced with disease-free elk and bison, brucellosis would not be retransmitted to them from cattle.

No, without fretting the details the paper sees this solution as a no-brainer, a cure-all. Once the slaughter is complete, the park could be repopulated with healthy bison and elk, it says.

"So in 10 years or so, the USDA might be able to say with some credibility, that the United States is Brucellosis Free. And all of us would say, "It's about time." it concludes.


Not to mention, that there is not a single proven case of Brucellosis being transmitted from wildlife towards cattle. This whole affair is just about fear of loss in the cattle industry. Not based on any fact.

Plain and simple, whoever wrote this editorial is an IDIOT who obviously knows nothing about the subject !! Not worth any other comments.

It's tricky to be sure what we are actually dealing with, and what the possible choices are with regard to Brucellosis in Yellowstone, because both sides in the debate are untrustworthy & devious on the topic.

Wikipedia's Brucellosis entry emphasizes that the disease transmits to humans and is serious. By inference, the more-fundamental threat to the cattle industry than the direct effects of the disease on cattle, is that infected herds would have to be destroyed, to forestall the threat of transmission to consumers.

There is a large U.S. Centers for Disease Control Brucellosis FAQ, which shows that the situation with this disease is broader & more complex than the Yellowstone Park dispute.

Will killing all elk & buffalo in Yellowstone free humanity (or even America) from the Brucella germ? No. It is a diverse problem, and global.

Are the herds of Yellowstone too large? By a large margin. "Ridiculous", if the mission is to preserve a 'natural habitat'. Instead, we have effectively the "Yellowstone Elk & Buffalo Ranch".

Would some like to see the ranching outside Yellowstone reduced or ended, so that overly-large populations of animals can be better-supported by having exclusive access to non-Park grazing lands? It does seem so.

Are the picturesque buffalo & elk herds being managed with a view firstly to tourism-values, and only secondarily in accordance with solid wildlife science? Sure. Many visitors report that their priority in coming to the Park, is to see the elk & buffalo. More normal population levels would be more-dispersed and much less visible. People see them readily, only because they are over-crowded.

The dominant token on this game-board appears to be the hope that by having over-large populations of these major herbivores, the chronic feed-shortage will disperse them seasonally into more & larger areas surrounding the Park, maintaining an implied pressure to treat regions surround the Park as though they are extensions of the Park ... when actually, they're not.

This is an example of the 'halo' idea - that Parks need to be surrounded by an ever-widening 'halo'-zone which falls effectively under Park-management, even though they are not Park and may actually have long histories of other usage.

The herds of Yellowstone ought to be a lot smaller than they are. That would greatly reduce the risk that diseased animals would travel far and thus expose domestic livestock to their disease. It would also take away a tourist-attraction (great masses of large animals in plain view), and disarm those who aim to use elk & bison to create an enlarged 'virtual' Yellowstone Park.

How many of those cattle are grazing on federal lands which are leased at a ridiculously low price? It seems to me that those ranchers don't have much to complain about.


It's been a while since I really delved deep into the brucellosis issue, but as I recall it's pretty hard for humans to contract the disease -- which is called "Bangs Disease" in humans. If memory serves me right, they'd have to be exposed to the blood of an infected animal. Its been years since the last case of human infection in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem involving wildlife, and the instance I remember involved an elk hunter who became infected while dressing out his kill.

Your mention of the "halo" idea could spur a thread of its very own, one I'm sure that would quickly grow lengthy. As you and many others know, Yellowstone's boundaries were politically set, not biologically, and therein lies the conflict between wildlife and livestock. The same problem can be cited at many other parks.

In effect, the National Park System is turning into a collection of islands that one day will be genetically isolated if nothing is done to curb sprawl and ensure wildlife corridors.

As for the size of Yellowstone's elk and bison herds, the wolves are working as hard as they can;-)


Yes, I was also surprised at some of the points that came up in a quick read of the prominent sources on Brucellosis.

Wikipedia begins their Brucellosis article with the passage:

"Brucellosis, also called undulant fever, or Malta fever, in humans is a highly contagious zoonosis (infectious disease transmitted from animals to humans) caused by eating of raw minced meat is also a common cause of the infection Brucella." (emph. added)

Relevant exerpts from Federal Centers for Disease Control ("CDC"):

"Various Brucella species affect sheep, goats, cattle, deer, elk, pigs, dogs, and several other animals. Humans become infected by coming in contact with animals or animal products that are contaminated with these bacteria. In humans brucellosis can cause a range of symptoms that are similar to the flu and may include fever, sweats, headaches, back pains, and physical weakness. Severe infections of the central nervous systems or lining of the heart may occur. Brucellosis can also cause long-lasting or chronic symptoms that include recurrent fevers, joint pain, and fatigue."

"Brucellosis is not very common in the United States, where100 to 200 cases occur each year. But brucellosis can be very common in countries where animal disease control programs have not reduced the amount of disease among animals." (emph. added)

"Brucella abortus is a bacterium that causes disease in cattle (and other animals), and also in humans."

"Humans are generally infected in one of three ways: eating or drinking something that is contaminated with Brucella, breathing in the organism (inhalation), or having the bacteria enter the body through skin wounds. The most common way to be infected is by eating or drinking contaminated milk products. When sheep, goats, cows, or camels are infected, their milk is contaminated with the bacteria. If the milk is not pasteurized, these bacteria can be transmitted to persons who drink the milk or eat cheeses made it. Inhalation of Brucella organisms is not a common route of infection, but it can be a significant hazard for people in certain occupations, such as those working in laboratories where the organism is cultured. Inhalation is often responsible for a significant percentage of cases in abattoir employees. Contamination of skin wounds may be a problem for persons working in slaughterhouses or meat packing plants or for veterinarians. Hunters may be infected through skin wounds or by accidentally ingesting the bacteria after cleaning deer, elk, moose, or wild pigs that they have killed."

"Direct person-to-person spread of brucellosis is extremely rare. Mothers who are breast-feeding may transmit the infection to their infants. Sexual transmission has also been reported. For both sexual and breast-feeding transmission, if the infant or person at risk is treated for brucellosis, their risk of becoming infected will probably be eliminated within 3 days. Although uncommon, transmission may also occur via contaminated tissue transplantation."

The upshot of the most authoritative source available (the CDC) seems to be that although brucellosis in humans in our country is rare at this time, that status is thanks to the effort to suppress the disease in wild & domestic animals, and that in the event we allowed those safeguards to lapse, we could indeed see widespread, serious disease in humans in this country.

The Wikipedia reference also contains a section titled "Brucellosis in humans".
The newly-reintroduced wolves are willing & qualified, no doubt, but they are also easily distracted and (ahem) find the limited size of Yellowstone even more chaffing, and dispersal a lot easier, than do the big herds.

The solution that will allow the larger, more-complete habitats that many of us would like to see our National Parks encompass may be to accept a 'mixed-use' and possibly 'mixed-jurisdiction' format. "Impure" Parks in the model of Europe and Alaska could lead to the habitat-preservation and restoration we want. Entities in this form may not offer a uniform or guaranteed 'wilderness experience', but they could enable us to manage very large integrated habitats.

Ted, you raise an interesting prospect, that of borrowing the European model of mixed-use national parks. I've in the past been somewhat befuddled by that model in say, England's Lake District. How could you have villages within a national park's boundaries?

But in these times, perhaps that model, with a few tweaks, could be a viable solution to genetic bottlenecks in the National Park System. By creating different zones of use -- from official wilderness to economic centers -- perhaps wilderness, wildlife, and ways of life could be better preserved than via the process we now employ to confront these issues. To a certain extent that's what some Rocky Mountain resort towns, such as Park City, Aspen, Boulder, Jackson and Sun Valley, are achieving through the purchase of open space.

Even more ambitious than what's transpiring in the Lake District is the European Green Belt project, which aims to "create the backbone of an ecological network that runs from the Barents to the Black sea, spanning some of the most important habitats for biodiversity and almost all distinct biogeographical regions in Europe."

While there long has been talk of creating the Yellowstone-to-Yukon corridor, it seems to have languished. Perhaps by borrowing some of these European ideas progress can be made. Of course, convincing cities and towns that might be involved to go along could be tricky. Or they could see it as sound economic development.

Kurt: "How could you have villages within a national park's boundaries?" Ever been to Yosemite? Seen Wawona? Yosemite Village in the valley? Do you know how many primary schools exist in NPS units, because so many families live there? How about Jasper National Park in Canada? Or Banff? The villages and the people were there before the park was dedicated - or they grew with the staff of the parks. Of course the first explanation is more relevant in Europe, but examples exist in North America as well.

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