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Bovine TB- ND wildlife officials monitor cattle tests

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP)--If tests find bovine tuberculosis in a southwestern North Dakota beef cattle herd, wildlife in the area will be destroyed in what one state official calls a "very expensive, very complex and a very ugly business."

The state Game and Fish Department is hoping that will not be necessary. But if the cattle herd is found to have bovine TB, "the idea is to not allow wildlife to become a reservoir" for the disease, said Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the state Game and Fish Department.

"This is a livestock issue, and we're just preparing in case wildlife is affected," he said.

The testing of the cattle herd began after a cow with a TB lesion at a meat processing plant in Long Prairie, Minn., was traced back to the herd late last year. North Dakota's Board of Animal Health has not identified the quarantined herd of more than 200 animals because testing is not complete.

State Veterinarian Susan Keller said initial screening, which involved an injection at the base of the tail, turned up 28 "suspect" cows. Those cows were killed so further testing could be done.

The tests are being conducted at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, the same lab that confirmed the diagnosis in the cow with bovine TB. Keller said she does not expect results until mid-February.

In the meantime, the herd will remain quarantined. Any movement of cattle must be cleared through the Board of Animal Health, Keller said.

The TB-free status North Dakota has enjoyed for more than 30 years would not be threatened unless another herd was found with TB within two years. If the herd being tested has bovine TB, it could be transmitted to deer, elk or bighorn sheep, which could in turn pass it on to another cattle herd.

Kreil pointed to what happened in northwestern Minnesota, where infected cattle herds were eliminated, but infected deer in the region passed on the disease to new cattle that were brought in.

If the suspect southwestern North Dakota herd has bovine TB, "there's no doubt" the Game and Fish Department would kill and test wildlife in the region, Kreil said. "Our deer densities are nowhere near what they are in Minnesota, but we can't take any chances," he said.

Kreil said officials do not yet know how large of an area would have to be covered, but he said the number of animals that would have to be killed would be "in the hundreds for sure," and that the cost would be "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

"It's going to be a pretty ugly business if we have to go do this," he said.

The last time a North Dakota cow herd tested positive for bovine TB was in 1999 in Morton County. The herd was destroyed.

Kreil said that situation was different because the Game and Fish Department sent an airplane over the area to find any deer that might have had contact with the herd. The search turned up none within 25 miles.

"The difference here is we know there's wildlife in close proximity to the cattle herd," Kreil said.

North Dakota has never had a documented case of bovine TB in the wild. The Game and Fish Department, with the help of deer hunters, tests for both that disease and chronic wasting disease. The agency also has negative bovine TB test results from three bighorn sheep in the area of the infected herd.

"At this point, it remains a livestock issue, but we're working very closely with the state veterinarian's office to not make it a wildlife issue," Kreil said.

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