A national science panel has convened at the Montana State University this week to discuss the spread of a livestock disease that has affected a large number of bison and elk populations in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

The panel, which was organized by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began talks on how to address the issue of a brucellosis outbreak in the region.

Members learned about the complexity of the situation, the vastness of areas ravaged by the disease and the conflicting management missions of agencies tasked with controlling the spread of brucellosis.

Ten representatives from the National Academy of Sciences heard several presentations prepared by state and federal wildlife and livestock authorities including officials from the Yellowstone National Park.

"We want you to ... help us see a future path for actions we might take to address brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area," APHIS representative Ryan Clarke said during the conference.

The science panel has been tasked by APHIS with reviewing the feasibility, time frame and cost effectiveness of options to curb the spread of Brucellosis that has currently affected around 22 million acres in the region.

It has also been instructed to study the potential of producing more effective vaccines against the disease, delivery systems and protocols for diagnostics for different livestock such as elk, cattle and bison.

Clarke pointed out the difficulties of addressing the problem especially when U.S. agencies first started to halt the brucellosis disease from spreading among domestic cattle back in 1934.

"Wildlife wasn't even on the radar, and now all of the risk is with wildlife," Clarke said.

The recent infections of brucellosis among cattle in Montana have been linked to elk. An earlier research, however, claimed that eliminating the disease Greater Yellowstone Area was improbable.

Despite this earlier assumption, Clarke said APHIS is determined to find out the cause of brucellosis and that the agency is supported by more recent scientific studies.

The science panel is set to convene again on Thursday where wildlife biologists are expected to present more detailed information on the situation.

Photo: Kabsik Park | Flickr 

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