HELENA — State livestock officials are considering having state employees retrieve the most infectious parts of bison gut piles left behind by hunters in a possible new bison hunt as a way of curtailing the spread of the bovine disease brucellosis.
Other ideas include asking hunters to cut out and turn in the reproductive tracts of cow bison they shoot, said Marc Bridges, the Livestock Department's executive officer. However the organs are retrieved, both hunters and state employees would be after the cow reproductive organs, the most infectious tissues in a bison with brucellosis.
"There are some logistics that have to be worked out," Bridges said. "We haven't gotten into the nuts, bolts and details of it yet."
The Legislature recently approved a bill authorizing the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to allow a limited hunt of the bison migrating out of Yellowstone National Park. The bison are known to carry the bovine disease brucellosis, which can be spread to cattle. Such bison are not allowed to freely migrate into Montana over fears they may spread the disease to Montana cattle and hurt the state's lucrative livestock industry.
Instead, Yellowstone bison are managed following a complicated plan that calls for shooing and hazing the animals back into Yellowstone, rounding them up, and, at certain times of the year, shooting them or taking them to a slaughter facility.
All of this, said Bridges, is with an eye toward preventing brucellosis from spreading to cattle.
Because the disease is spread most efficiently through birthing matter, including aborted bison fetuses, the animals are most aggressively rounded up in the spring calving season. At other times when infection is unlikely, said Keith Aune, supervisor of Fish, Wildlife and Park's wildlife research lab in Bozeman, the animals are allowed to graze in Montana unbothered.
The Livestock Department supported the idea of a bison hunt before the Legislature, but Bridges said he has concerns about hunters leaving behind gut piles of potentially infectious reproductive tissue on pastures that might later be grazed by domestic livestock.
Typically, when hunters down an animal they "field dress" it where the animal falls, meaning they remove its internal organs, leaving behind a pile of guts, including reproductive organs.
Bison gut piles can be quite large, up to 300 pounds per bison, said Jeff Hagener, director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Bridges said all considerations about retrieving reproductive organs from gut piles are in the earliest stages and may prove to be unnecessary. For one thing, the bill passed by lawmakers does not mandate a hunt, it merely allows the commission to create one. As of now, Montana offers no bison hunt.