After lengthy negotiations between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Bridger ranchers Joe and Sandy Morgan, the USDA agreed to pay the Morgans $475,000 for 589 cows that will be slaughtered in order to save Montana’s brucellosis-free beef status.
The USDA discovered the disease—which affects cows, elk, bison, sheep, goats, deer, pigs, dogs and other mammals —in six cows in the Morgan’s herd on May 18, 2007. The cows—284 calves, 289 cows and 16 bulls—are ordered to be slaughtered by Tuesday, July 17.
The Billings Gazette reports the Morgans will receive $423,000 under the deal reached with Brian McCluskey, the USDA’s western regional director for veterinary services. The remaining $52,000 will go to Karen Hergenrider of Belfry, who will lose 33 cows and 32 calves that she ran on the Morgan ranch. The compensation for the Morgans is $100,000 less than the cow’s true value because the USDA compensates for what the cows’ values are now, not what the value could become once the cattle fatten up in the fall.
It is unknown where the Morgan’s cattle received the brucellosis infection from, but the slaughter comes as state officials, ranchers and landowners around Yellowstone National Park try to come up with a solution to wild bison roaming outside the park. Some bison have been known to carry the brucellosis disease, though there is no record of a wild bison transmitting the disease to cattle.
Still, the issue of how to contain the roaming bison in order to maintain the state’s economically important brucellosis-free beef status has been a contentious debate in the state for many years. The Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) has practiced “hazing” roaming bison back into the park with helicopters. If bison continue to roam, the DOL hazes them into pens and sends them to slaughter. The Buffalo Field Campaign states the Montana DOL has slaughtered over 5,000 bison since 1985.
Brian Schweitzer is proposing a brucellosis-free buffer zone around the southern edge of Gallatin, Madison and Park Counties adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. All cattle entering or leaving the zone would be tested for brucellosis. Many landowners fear the plan will result in government takings, and they also question logistical issues of who will oversee the zone and whether or not government facilities will be built on their property. There is no agreement yet on implementing the governor’s plan.
For the Morgan’s, the loss of all their cattle represents more than a financial burden. The line of cattle has been in the family for three generations, since the 1920s.
Jim Morgan stated in the Billings Gazette article, “Sandy’s grandpa started this line of cows in the 1920s. A way to look at it is there’s some cow families that will be totally lost forever because it’s just the last of a certain line of cows.”
It is as of yet undecided where the cattle will be sent for slaughter.