Buffering buffalo

  • Young bison on private property 25 miles east of Yellowstone

    Dewey Vanderhoff photo

Don't expect brucellosis to disappear from the Yellowstone area anytime soon, says a draft report issued by the National Academy of Sciences. The disease, common among bison and elk, led the state of Montana to shoot or slaughter nearly one-third of the Yellowstone bison herd last winter when the animals moved outside park boundaries - and near domesticated cattle - in search of food. The report, Brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area, confirms that between 30 and 40 percent of bison in Yellowstone National Park test positive for brucellosis antibodies. But it also concludes that the risk of elk or bison passing on the disease to domesticated animals is almost nonexistent. Since total elimination of the disease from the wild herds would require killing infected animals, the authors recommend vaccinating and monitoring cattle in a buffer zone around the park.

"It's the simplest way in the short term to reduce the probability of transmission to cattle," says Dale McCullough, professor of wildlife biology at the University of California-Berkeley and one of the authors of the study. Eliminating the disease will not be possible, he adds, until researchers develop more effective vaccines and better ways to vaccinate wild herds. "It would be nice not to have (brucellosis)," says McCullough, "but if these problems can't be solved, we'll just have to control the risks forever."

The full draft report is available on the Internet at http://www2.nas.edu/ besthome/bisonelk.htm. A final report is expected this spring and can be ordered from the National Academy Press by calling 800/ 624-6242, or by writing the National Research Council, Office of News and Public Information, 2101 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20418.

*Michelle Nijhuis

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