Legislature to consider brucellosis bills
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP)--The Wyoming Livestock Board is pushing legislation that would require the state pay to help ranchers fund spaying of heifers to reduce transmission of the livestock disease brucellosis.
Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that can cause pregnant cows to abort their calves. Spaying heifers prevents them from getting pregnant and passing on the disease.
The Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee has endorsed a bill that would pay up to $8 a head to veterinarians who spay heifers. It would also allow the state to pay ranchers to cover the cost of fencing, feed and other actions that state officials say are necessary to keep livestock from mingling with elk infected with brucellosis or to contain infected herds.
The bill calls for spending up to $750,000 for the brucellosis programs.
Jim Schwartz, director Wyoming Livestock Board, said Dec. 16 the board supports the legislation.
"As far as the livestock board, I work for a seven-member committee and they are in total support of trying to help ranchers," Schwartz said. "When heifers are spayed, it eliminates the danger of brucellosis, and there is no chance for them to spread the disease."
Although brucellosis exists in wildlife in Wyoming, cattle in the state have been classified as brucellosis-free since September 2006. Brucellosis was found again this summer in cows from a Sublette County herd.
If the disease turns up in more Wyoming cattle, officials say the state could lose its federal brucellosis-free status. That could result in expensive testing requirements for transportation of animals.
Schwartz said nearly 13,000 head of cattle have been tested in 28 separate herds around Daniel in the past four months. He said none of them has tested positive.
"Our cattle are very clean in Wyoming, and we want to keep it that way," Schwartz said.
Schwartz said he has heard from ranchers who want the state to build fences to keep cattle away from state-operated elk feedgrounds where they might contract the disease.
Asked why the state should help ranchers to cover costs associated with preventing brucellosis, Schwartz said, "There is a tremendous amount of public benefit that comes from ranching. It provides open space, it provides clean air, it provides wildlife habitat at no cost to the general public. So there are huge public benefits to the general public from ranching in terms of environmental quality."
If ranchers aren't able to make a living, Schwartz said there's always the danger that they will sell out to developers.
Sen. John Hines, R-Gillette, is sponsoring a similar bill that would have the state pay to cover some cost of spaying, but would not pay for fencing. Hines, a rancher, is the incoming senate president and a member of the Governor's Brucellosis Task Force.
"There's some concern about the committee bill perhaps being broader, covering more areas than might be acceptable to the Legislature," Hines said Dec. 16. "So the idea was just to try to have this bill laying in the background. Then if the other bill doesn't make it, we'll bring this bill forward."
Hines said he supports helping ranchers cover the increased costs associated with the brucellosis situation in the state.
"The state is restricting the movements of these cattle," Hines said.
Sen. Bill Vasey, D-Rawlins, serves on the agriculture committee. He said Dec. 16 he didn't know how the entire Legislature would respond to the bill.
"We worked through the constitutional issue of giving money to an individual," Vasey said. "Brucellosis is such a threat to the whole state economy and the stock growers that this is the genesis of the bill. It's an attempt to do what we can to curb this and keep that brucellosis-free status."