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Herd of elk on private land near Whitefish

Conservation > Wildlife Management > Migration > Private Land Disease Transmission

Brucellosis is a disease caused by a group of bacteria that affects cattle, bison and elk in Montana. This disease can spread rapidly and be costly to livestock producers. Of concern in Montana is the comingling of elk and cattle during the spring migration or calving period as elk infected with Brucellosis shed the bacteria in aborted fetuses and birthing materials. Cattle can subsequently pick up the bacteria from these materials or soil contaminated with the bacteria.   

Elk moving from winter range to calving grounds or summer range often pass through livestock grazing areas raising the risk of cattle coming into contact with infected material. FWP conducts  targeted elk brucellosis surveillance to 1) evaluate the prevalence and spatial extent of brucellosis exposure in southwest Montana elk populations, 2) evaluate the extent of elk interchange between infected and adjacent elk herds, and 3) evaluate the risk of positive elk potentially transmitting Brucellosis to livestock. Elk capture and disease testing provides a look at the timing and extent of herd interchange in order to inform management action to prevent disease transmission.

An annual work plan put together by a Brucellosis Working Group lists management actions available for potential implementation within the area of Montana where Brucellosis is present in elk. Fundamentally the actions are meant to reduce commingling of elk and livestock (primarily cattle) and the associated risk of brucellosis transmission while maintaining elk on the landscape. The actions are designed to adjust local elk distribution away from cattle at small geographic scales. Both lethal and non-lethal actions are identified within the work plan to include small scale fencing, habitat modification, hazing of elk from high risk areas, harvest by hunters or lethal take by landowners in attempts to eliminate problem animals and encourage movement out of livestock grazing areas. FWP and the landowners approach this elk management incrementally, adding additional management actions over time where appropriate. Local working groups with landowner involvement represent one of the best opportunities to address risky concentrations of elk.

Landowner Resources

Conservation Easements and Fee Title Acquisitions

Helping landowners conserve key habitat, including wildlife movement corridors.

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Noxious Weed Management

The Montana Wildlife Habitat Improvement Act provides federal funding to restore priority wildlife habitats by managing noxious weeds.

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Fence Modification

Not all fences create problems for wild animals. By tailoring fence design and placement, landowners can reduce wildlife injuries and decrease damage to the fence.

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Game Damage

FWP is committed to reducing agricultural conflicts caused by migrating wildlife

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Disease transmission

Commingling of elk and livestock and the associated risk of brucellosis transmission while maintaining elk on the landscape.

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