Brucellosis in Bison – What Can Montana Do?

herd of bisonBrucellosis is a bacterial disease that frequently effects animals like bison, elk and cattle. Prevalent among bison who call Yellowstone National Park their home, The National Academy of Science has enlisted a group of scientists to study this problem and aid Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP); the National Park Service and others in preventing the spread of this disease to livestock and other creatures in the area.

Bison are in integral part of United States history, and the National Park Services has spent the past hundred years rebuilding bison populations in the Yellowstone area. Since the late 1800s they have succeeded in increasing the local population from about 20 to 4800 bison.

More than 50 percent of these animals are currently infected with the disease, and any that are found off of park land are immediately killed to prevent its spread. Brucellosis is a main cause in miscarriage, infertility and a lowered milk production in bison and cattle and causes fever and severe flu-like symptoms in humans if contracted. Vaccines for cattle and wild animals are being tested, and the outlook is positive.

FWP and the National Park Service are working together to update their Interagency Bison Management Plan in an attempt to conserve a migratory population of wild bison in the Yellowstone area while avoiding the spread of brucellosis to livestock.  With 76 percent of Montanans supporting the restoration of bison on public lands, attempts are also being made by these groups to restore bison to locations like the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. To do so, bison populations must be first be cleared of disease.

Public meetings were held on July 1 and 2 to discuss the topic and begin a plan to suppress brucellosis across the state. Three more meetings are set to be held throughout the next year to continue this work. To sign up for event notices and to learn more about the situation, click here.

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