Governor to speak to Montana Stockgrowers

2009-12-01T23:25:00Z Governor to speak to Montana StockgrowersTOM LUTEY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
December 01, 2009 11:25 pm  • 

Gov. Brian Schweitzer will address the conservative-leaning Montana Stockgrowers Association, which offered the Democrat its keynote convention speech in Billings as a peace offering several weeks ago.

The Stockgrowers had been at loggerheads with Schweitzer over livestock issues since his 2004 election.

“We’re obviously pleased that the governor has accepted our invitation,” said Errol Rice, Stockgrowers vice president.

The speech will be at noon Dec. 11 at the Crowne Plaza. The group’s 125th annual meeting begins Dec. 10 and runs through Saturday.

The governor said Tuesday that he would discuss several challenges ranchers face, including low market prices, brucellosis management and sportsmen access issues. The latter two were sticking points between him and the Stockgrowers.

“I’m going to talk about the challenges and opportunities, and some of the challenges are opportunities in disguise,” Schweitzer said.

It’s been a year since the state Board of Livestock rolled out a brucellosis action plan that required intensive testing and vaccination of cattle within a seven-county area encircling Yellowstone National Park.

Brucellosis can cause abortions in pregnant livestock. Gone from most of the continental United States, the disease persists in buffalo and elk living in the greater Yellowstone National Park area, posing a risk to Montana cattle. Two cases were found in cattle during a two-year period, which caused the state to lose its brucellosis-free status in the summer of 2008.

The action plan worked. Montana’s brucellosis-free status was restored by the federal government last spring, but many Stockgrowers felt ranchers in the action plan area were unfairly branded as a brucellosis risk as a result.

The federal government is now changing its approach to managing brucellosis, opting instead for indefinite disease testing of livestock in the greater Yellowstone area, not unlike the one-year testing plan Montana completes this month. Infected surveillance areas would be quarantined under the proposal, but entire states surrounding Yellowstone wouldn’t lose their disease-free status over incidents discovered in the surveillance area.

Ranchers remain concerned about the stigma of ranching near Yellowstone.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service will be at the convention to talk about the new federal proposal. State veterinarian Marty Zaluski also will speak about the state’s role in the matter.

As brucellosis management moves forward, Schweitzer said there is potential to advance vaccinations for the disease in both livestock and wildlife. There’s an opportunity, he said, just as there are chances to sell beef in emerging foreign markets, or arrange beneficial relationships with sportsmen. It depends on how the challenge is approached.

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