FWP to form elk-brucellosis working group

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is soliciting members for a new advisory committee to help the agency develop policy and strategies for managing the brucellosis conflict between livestock and elk in the area surrounding Yellowstone National Park.

Conflicts between elk and livestock in areas around the park have been problematic for years. Recently, FWP has been stepping up their monitoring efforts in the region, particularly in Madison and Beaverhead Counties, said Ron Aasheim, spokesman with the agency in Helena.

“It’s just been a continuing thing and we finally decided to step back and get some interests together and find out what may potentially be agreeable to people,” Aasheim said. “There are two sides and lots of different opinions about what you ought to do. We’re going to sit down, hopefully with interests from both sides and see if we can come up with some stuff.”

Brucellosis is a disease that can cause elk, bison and cattle to abort their calves. The most recent discovery of the disease in livestock was last month when a bull bison from a ranch in the upper Ruby Valley tested positive. Other positive tests in livestock herds have occurred in other areas on the north border of Yellowstone.

In an effort to begin to monitor and track the extent of the disease in elk, FWP captured and tested 100 elk in the upper Ruby Valley last winter. The initial results showed that 12 of the 100 elk had been exposed to the disease. Testing efforts will continue again this winter.
The interaction with elk and livestock makes managing the disease difficult and it’s time that all the interests sit down and try and figure out a solution, Aasheim said.

“The idea is to take a look at how do you best manage elk to reduce the risk,” he said. “It’s managing the risk of elk and the potential transmission to livestock that’s what it’s all about.”

The elk-brucellosis working group will meet for at least six, two-day facilitated meetings between January and the end of June 2012, according to a FWP press release issued last week.

“FWP is seeking a representative mix of Montanans who are committed to work to reach consensus on elk management guidelines that seek to conserve elk on public and private lands while reducing the risk of brucellosis transmission between elk and livestock,” reads the press release.

The group will be made up of 12 members who will be selected by FWP director Joe Maurier in consolation with the FWP Commission members.

“The whole idea here is to get diverse interests together and have them talk about some things in hopefully a friendly and relaxed setting,” Aasheim said. “The idea is if it’s an issue let’s address it and let’s do it in a fashion where you gain some momentum.”

Applications must be submitted by Dec. 21. To apply online – or to download an application form – visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Click “Elk-Brucellosis Working Group.” Address additional inquires via e-mail to fwpwld@mt.gov.

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