Results from an ongoing study in southwestern Montana show that none of the 100 elk sampled in the Pioneer Mountains have been exposed to brucellosis.
The findings are part of a multi-year study by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to evaluate the presence of brucellosis in elk in the Greater Yellowstone Area and improve understanding of herd movement and interaction.
"This group of (Pioneer Mountain) elk remains brucellosis-free, and that's a good thing for wildlife and for the livestock industry," said FWP Region 3 supervisor Pat Flowers.
The study area, located in the southern and western Pioneers—hunting districts 329, 331 and 332—was selected because it is adjacent to hunting districts where brucellosis has been found in elk. State veterinarian Dr. Marty Zaluski, Montana Department of Livestock in Helena, said the findings are significant.
"First, it shows that the boundaries for the Designated Surveillance Area are well placed within the region," Zaluski said. "It is also providing more data about elk movement in the region, which will help us better define livestock populations at risk."
The DSA is the geographical area in southwest Montana where brucellosis-positive elk are known to exist. In this area, co-mingling of elk and livestock – and thus, livestock exposure to brucellosis – is possible. Producers within the DSA are required to use testing, vaccination and surveillance to reduce the risks of brucellosis transmission from wildlife to livestock.
In the study’s two previous years, testing also found no sign of brucellosis in elk captured south of Bannack, while five of 93 elk near Dillon and 12 of 100 in the Ruby Range tested positive for brucellosis exposure.
The livestock industry’s ability to market cattle interstate is reliant on the confidence of other states in Montana’s ability to successful manage brucellosis, Zaluski said.
The Pioneer Mountain study, funded by FWP and a grant from USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, was conducted in mid-January by FWP. Helicopters and net guns were used to capture the elk for testing. Thirty of the elk were fitted with GPS collars to provide additional information about annual movement patterns in the area.
Flowers said the study will continue next year, with the southern Tobacco Roots as a possible candidate. For more information on elk and brucellosis research, visit FWP's website at fwp.mt.gov. Click the Fish and Wildlife tab. Then click "Conservation and Management" and then "Elk".