Montana wildlife officials are still seeking comment on three overarching elk management objectives for populations near Yellowstone National Park that are aimed at reducing the risk of transmitting brucellosis infections between elk and livestock.
The focus of the objectives, which were developed by an agency appointed working group, is to reduce the risk of disease transmission through various elk redistribution techniques. The comment deadline is 5 p.m. on Dec. 20.
Over the past 12 months, a working group of a dozen local landowners, stockgrowers and hunters led the effort to examine effective elk management options and risk prevention efforts in several southwestern Montana hunting districts. The areas generally include hunting districts that border or are near Yellowstone National Park. The group will meet Dec. 18 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' Bozeman office, 1400 S. 19th St., to review comments received so far and take additional public comment from noon to 12:30 p.m.
Brucellosis is a contagious bacterial infection in domestic animals, wildlife and humans worldwide. In Montana, brucellosis has been detected in elk, bison and, several years ago, in cattle in areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park. The disease results in miscarriages in some pregnant animals, including domestic cattle, and bison and elk.
The proposed objectives, recently approved for public comment by the FWP Commission, are exclusively focused on keeping elk away from high risk areas where elk could comingle with cattle or in unusually high concentrations that might increase transmission. The objectives include:
Some action items or tools that could be considered under the guidelines include hazing elk away from livestock, hunting, potentially reducing the size or density of some wintering elk herds, and erecting fences to keep elk out of specific locations like small scale feed areas. Details and specific management actions will be developed by local working groups and then presented for FWP Commission approval, which would include additional public comment opportunities.
Officials stressed that a program to test elk and then cull those exposed to brucellosis is not under consideration. "These guidelines are aimed directly at keeping elk on the move and away from high risk areas," said Ken McDonald, chief of the wildlife bureau for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena. "Test and slaughter is not going to be considered now or in the future."
Officials are also seeking comment on the working group's issue statement, which reads in part that:
"Tools for reducing the prevalence of brucellosis in elk could not only reduce the risk of transmission to cattle, but could also help restore traditional movement and distribution of elk. Eradication of brucellosis in elk is not currently feasible; management tools need to be endorsed by the FWP Commission that will reduce, and if possible eventually eliminate the risk of transmission between elk and livestock, in a manner that considers the interest of livestock owners, landowners, wildlife enthusiasts, recreationists and hunting groups."
The working group prepared several additional strategic objectives and offered examples of how FWP could carry out risk reduction guidelines, but the FWP Commission only approved the three "fundamental objectives," "Issue Statement" and example action items for public comment.
To comment and find more details, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Click "Elk Management Guidelines". Comments will be accepted through Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. Send written comments to: FWP–Wildlife Bureau, Attn: Public Comment; P.O. Box 200701; Helena, MT 59620-0701. For information, call: 496-444-2612.