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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.

Montana Ranchers Agree with Slaughter Payment for Infected Cattle

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.

About David Nolt

Comments

  1. Pronghorn says:

    Oh, sniff, this makes one weep–that some domestic, exotic, privately-owned cattle families, around since the 1920s, might be lost forever. While I actually CAN empathize with the Morgans for their loss, this pales in comparison to the persecution, capture, and slaughter of Yellowstone bison, the last truly wild, free-roaming, genetically-diverse, and publicly “owned” and loved herd in America. And as for the longevity of the cattle line, Yellowstone is the only place ON EARTH where wild bison have survived continuously since prehistoric times! Now you tell me which is more meaningful to America and the world!

    Mr. Nolt fails to mention that, try as they might, officials and ranchers couldn’t pin this transmission on bison, and admitted in all liklihood that elk were responsible. In addition, recent outbreaks in both Wyoming and Idaho WERE linked to elk. Yet the piece above, while admitting that “there is no record of a wild bison transmitting the disease to cattle,” proceeds to focus on bison, leaving the impression that they are, indeed, the problem.

    Bison advocates will continue exposing the taxpayer-funded fraud that is brucellosis risk management until Gov. Schweitzer and the state of Montana get it right–designated year-round habitat for wild bison on public land surrounding the park. It just makes sense.

  2. TCWriter says:

    Until somebody definitively links bison to brucellosis (and there’s not even a hint of a link here), why the hell would you mention it at the end of the story?

    Why buy into the whole “Bison = Brucellosis” thing when it doesn’t seem to be the case?

    Part of the journalist’s job is practice a little editorial judgement; just because the livestock industry wants to link Bison to brucellosis doesn’t mean you have to play along — especially when there’s little or no evidence supporting the assertion.

  3. Disgusted says:

    It is really sad to see the lack of compassion and caring for another human being. Maybe if we send a few dozen of the diseased bison to Chicago to the feedlots, the brucellosis out break and the financial fallout from that will bring some common sense. It is way past time to try to eradicate the disease, not nurture it!

  4. jhwygirl says:

    It is a disingenuous to write this story so one-sided as to suggest that Bison are the cause of the Morgan Ranch woes.

    All indications are that it is ELK that transmitted brucellosis to the herd – not Bison. Yet you’ve nary a mention of ELK.

    As TCwriter points out, there is yet to be a definitive link of Bison to Brucellosis transmission – and, in fact, if you had done your homework, you would have found out that the only known and confirmed transmissions of brucellosis to domesticated animals – both cattle and horses – have been from ELK.

    ‘Disgusted’ is way off base, and obviously knows only that which is printed as hysterical truth – as killing off Bison is not the solution to eradicating the disease.

    Do some homework next time instead of regurgitating the Montana Cattlemen’s Association talking points.

  5. David Nolt says:

    Thanks for reading everybody. It’s always great to see feedback, however snide. Contrary to above comments, I did not copy and paste this story from the Cattlemen’s Association website. If I would have just regurgitated Buffalo Field Campaign talking points I wonder if the story would have received the same responses.

    I did mention there is no record of the disease transmitting from bison to cattle, and I did mention, albeit briefly, the fact that the disease also affects elk. I suppose I am taking the government’s word for it when they say they still don’t know how the cattle got the disease, but until this is proved otherwise I can’t say the cattle “probably” got it from elk. Did they probably get it from elk? Probably. Something to look into, and I will follow up on this story. It definitely would be a shame to see economics and politics trump science as is too often the case these days.

    However, it is a bit disheartening to see a family’s labor so immaturely and callously mocked. I’d rather see our valleys full of wild bison rather than cattle too, but do any of the above posters eat beef?

    Thanks again for reading, and please stay posted.

  6. Marion says:

    It hurts to see some humans so callous, almost gleeful at another’s misfortune thru no fault of their own.
    The officials appear to be looking into the possiblity that the wolves are spreading the disease, maybe by carrying diseased tissue around, certainly none of the states had a brucellosis outbreak until the wolves were brought in.
    I doubt you guys would be that thrilled with buffs roaming everywhere. Drive thru Yellowstone and get caught in buffalo ambling up the road for miles, then imagine this on a busy highway with everybody going 70 MPH.
    The buffalo don’t need to all be killed, immunization coupled with killing has proven effective in other parks. It is irresponsible to try to keep this disease alive just to get rid of ranchers.

  7. Pronghorn says:

    David, I for one do not eat beef (since you asked) or any other meat. Eating lower on the food chain is one way I contribute to a less violent world. But instead of asking if any of the posters eat beef, or in addition to asking, let’s ask why ranchers around Yellowstone don’t vaccinate their herds against brucellosis? It’s a cattle problem–let THEM take the measures to protect their investment.

    As for your unwillingness to even report that officials/ranchers had speculated that elk were the culprits, please note this, from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle: “Neither herd ever mixed with bison from Yellowstone National Park, Malcolm has said, but large numbers of elk — some of them possibly infected — use his Park County ranch.” (The Morgan herd came, in part, from the Malcolm herd.) http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/articles/2007/07/04/news/40brucellosis.txt It requires no speculation or taking anyone’s word for anything to report a possible (and probable) link, one provided by the rancher himself.

    The entire mismanagement of the Yellowstone bison herd is a taxpayer-funded exercise in “…economics and politics trump(ing) science…” to benefit the powerful and bloated livestock industry. And of course, it isn’t about brucellosis, anyhow. The verified elk transmissions make that abundantly clear, yet bison remain in the crosshairs. Where’s the science in that?

  8. David Nolt says:

    Pronghorn: Great to hear you are conscious about what you eat. You are definitely to be commended. Many of these “conundrums” would be eased by more people having such a proactive, ecologically conscious diet.

    No unwillingness to report on the elk deal on my part, though. You can argue I may have glossed over that part of the story, but we have to be careful about reporting on speculation. But it certainly was not a concerted effort in cahoots with big beef.

    The wolf theory is interesting. Thanks for writing, and keep reading. I plan to follow this story more closely and, hopefully, more comprehensively.

  9. jhwygirl says:

    Now David – let’s not get hysterical. I did not accuse you of cut-and-paste – I indicated you wrote a one-sided story using the Montana Cattleman’s Association talking points. A bit different, don’t you think.

    I, for one, do not take glee or mock the Morgan’s – I do sympathize with them, indeed. I have worked on a ranch, and I work with many ranchers – all of whom I have the utmost respect.

    As for the ELK statements – well, Pronghorn was kind enough to do some googling and find one of the articles I remember having read.

    He also pointed out the prospect of vaccination – a nominal cost of less than $2/head, as I recall.

    What I know about brucellosis is not solely from the Buffalo Field Campaign – I have read extensively about brucellosis for well over 10 years now – from newpaper articles to science reports to Environmental Impact Statements.

    For you to so callously dismiss those who disagree with you and ask that you present a fairly written article is immature.

    And I, BTW, love a good steak.

  10. Pronghorn says:

    “The officials appear to be looking into the possiblity that the wolves are spreading the disease, maybe by carrying diseased tissue around, certainly none of the states had a brucellosis outbreak until the wolves were brought in.”

    Marion, will you provide a link to your source for this info? I’d greatly appreciate it–thanks.

  11. David Nolt says:

    Have not dismissed anybody. Fact is, ya’ll are making me a better writer. I’d be a fool not to listen, so long as it’s constructive. Telling me my story is shoddy and why is completely fair. Snarky comments and assumptions are less so.

    Mmm, and I love a good steak too…beef or bison.

  12. jhwygirl says:

    You have a healthy attitude towards what writing really means, David – putting yourself out there, in print and forever, for all to see.

    You’ve done some great stuff. I went and looked it over, and I can say I’ve enjoyed quite a number of your pieces.

    And I look forward to many more.

    Peace.

  13. David Nolt says:

    Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading.

  14. Pronghorn says:

    One other comment, since I’m here again, regarding this:
    “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.”

    Just want to point out that the Morgans ARE getting the cows’ “true value,” since they are getting compensated for what they are actually worth right now, not what they are worth at some future date and at some estimated future price and after they have invested more time and money in them.

    Still wondering about that wolf/brucellosis link, Marion…

  15. Pronghorn says:

    Marion….???? Please substantiate your statement about the possibility of wolves spreading brucellosis.

  16. Craig Moore says:

    Golly Pronghorn, there are at least a couple of ways really. Wolves chase brucellosis infected animals into contact with other herds. Wolves eat dead brucellosis infected animals and carry the infection to other places where they deficate into grass areas eaten by other animals especially at the winter feeding stations.

  17. Pronghorn says:

    Golly, Craig, I guess you couldn’t discern that I was asking Marion where she got her information– that “officials appear to be looking into the possibility…” etc. etc. She got it from SOMEwhere, I mean, I’m sure she didn’t just make it up…

  18. Craig Moore says:

    Golly Pronghorn, you make this too difficult. Keep it simple. I’m sure officials are looking at many possible agents and influences that spread the disease. That would only make sense, no?

  19. Pronghorn says:

    “Keep it simple”?!? Ahh, so she DID make it up…thanks.

  20. Craig Moore says:

    Pronghorn, Marion is not here or on any other discussion that I can see. Looks like she is away. You keep asking your question. Somehow I envision someone screaming into a phone when no one is at the other end. Don’t make things so personal. Makes you look a bit silly.

  21. Pronghorn says:

    Feel free to have the last word. Your tactics–designed to discredit and belittle (“…screaming into a phone…” “Makes you look a bit silly”)–are painfully transparent.

  22. Interested says:

    I have some questions regarding the recent brucellosis finding in the cattle near Bridger Montana. Where did the 3 Corriente cattle (Texas Longhorns) in the Morgan’s herd come from and were they vaccinated for brucellosis protection? Did they come from Mexico or Texas, which are not brucellosis free areas? There is a picture of some of these cattle online from the Billings Gazette at http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2007/07/17/news/state/18-morgan_z.txt.

    The Prairie Star reported awhile back that some of the cattle in question were headed to Iowa and were sold illegally http://www.theprairiestar.com/articles/2007/06/10/ag_news/local_and_regional_news/regional10.txt. Is this an accurate report? Also, where did the 51 cows in the “put together herd” in Baker Montana come from and did they test positive for brucellosis exposure? This was also reported in the Prairie Star. http://www.theprairiestar.com/articles/2007/06/08/ag_news/updates/update13.txt. What were the quarantine violations documented by the Department of Livestock (DOL) with the Morgan herd and what are the consequences to the Morgans and their neighbors? As well, what will the DOL do to ensure cattle in Montana are indeed brucellosis free – just stop looking? As the July 16 Billings Gazette article points out many ranchers who have a cow that aborts a calf now is likely to use the Winchester Code of the West and shot, shovel and shut up.

    Also do you readers know that the head of Research for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is proposing a bison neuter and vaccination program if we can just find him the mega bucks it will take? This was also reported in the July 6, 2007 Prairie Star at the Montana Stock Growers Association meeting http://www.theprairiestar.com/articles/2007/07/06/ag_news/livestock/livestock01.txt.

    And finally, did elk share a feed line with the infected cattle in the Bridger area? If so, have these elk been tested for brucellosis exposure? None of the current low numbers for brucellosis exposure in elk that FWP throws out there (typically they claim 2-3% exposure in southwest Montana) are scientifically defensible. It is garbage in gabage out work and yet they act like they now what the actual exposure rate is. Regardless, there are thousands of elk, exposed to this disease, that roam freely throughout the Upper Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone drainages. Blaming, confining and killing bison is just hypocrisy.

  23. Dee says:

    A new book on wolves in Russia reports they spread brucellosis and other bad diseases. The book by Will Graves edited by Dr. Val Geist says on page 83 “There are numerous articles in literature about wolves spreading infectious diseases such as brucellosis,tularemia, listeriosis and anthrax.” Literature is cited. The book is Wolves in Russia , anxiety through the ages 223 pp. 2007 publ. Detselig Enterprises, LTD, Calgary, Alberta, Canda http://www.temerondeselig.com, phone (403)283-6947

    Consider also that the wolves have moved mountain elk down into the cornfields around Bridger and on the Yellowstone River below Gardiner. This latter info came from two FWP sources.

  24. Interested says:

    I think we should consider the specific costs, as compared to what we are doing now, if Montana was declared a Class A state. Clearly Montana is not brucellosis-free. Elk, wolves, coyotes, grizzlies, black bears, moose, bighorn sheep, Antelope, mule deer, eagles, ravens, crows, etc. all come and go from the Park and have likely been exposed to brucellosis to varying degrees. As I understand it, only breeding age and capable (mature cows and bulls) sold out of state would require testing under a Class A status. Calves being sent to feedlots to be fattened and slaughtered for beef consumers would not be affected at all. Class A status appears to affect cattlemen selling to cattlemen. I wonder if that would affect the price of burger at your local grocery store even 1 penny. I doubt it would and I think the general comments reported by the media about Class A status would cost cattlemen “millions” needs to be looked at in more detail. Which cattlemen? If I was a cattlemen in Iowa or any other state for that matter considering buying replacement cows or bulls I would want verification that they were “healthy” and brucellosis free no matter where I was buying them. At $2-3head for testing that seems like a reasonable cost of business to me. Clearly, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana are not brucellosis free. Exposed elk and the other wildlife mentioned above roam freely within the Greater Yellowstone Area. Brucellosis is not confined to the Park. Class A status for these three states may be a very reasonable alternative to this other madness.

  25. Pronghorn says:

    Interested, you make some great points. I might add, however, that USDA-APHIS “Brucellosis-free status” applies to the state’s cattle herds, not also to its wildlife. So although Montana surely has wildlife carrying brucellosis antibodies, the state’s cattle herds are still deemed brucellosis-free.

    Here’s the low-down from Wyoming on Class A status http://wyagric.state.wy.us/relatedinfo/BRucellosis/FactSheet1.pdf
    You are right-on in wondering about a comparison with what we’re doing now to wild bison–spending millions of taxpayer dollars on hazing (with helicopters, even!), capture facilities, shipment to slaughter with Dept. of Homeland Security escorts, millions more on quarantine facilities and experimentation year after year –when, haha, elk are the problem, anyhow! The joke is on the sucker taxpayers, ’cause the powers-that-be have a nice, lucrative little brucellosis cottage industry going, and to change the status quo would be to lose that. The hysteria coming from the livestock growers is over the top–their industry introduced brucellosis to the ecosystem in the first place, let them step up and take responsibility for managing their cattle to deal with it. They, too, are taxpayer subsidized, but that’s not enough–they want our wildlife, too.

  26. Interested says:

    Regarding tax payer money for brucellosis research – How is this any different than the millions of tax payer dollars that were wasted by former Senator Burns who use to earmark and funnel public money to the Department of Livestock (DOL) so they could do their bison bidding? I would like to know where this money is coming from and where it is headed. Who is going to do this “research’? Is this money going to the DOL? Will there be any work done on building a better livestock vaccine such as RB51 Plus or is this all targeted at poking, prodding, harassing and slaughtering wildlife again. How can the public get involved in how this money will be spent? I don’t see this as good news. Looks like pandering for votes.