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Scientists say more bison vaccines wouldn't work

Mar 3, 2013 - The Associated Press

About half of Yellowstone National Park's more than 4,000 bison have been exposed to brucellosis, which is also found in elk.

BILLINGS, Mont. -- A panel of scientists recommended against ramping up a vaccine program as a way to reduce disease prevalence in Yellowstone National Park bison, park officials said Friday.

The eight-member panel of university scientists and government researchers was convened this week by park administrators and Montana wildlife officials.

After three days of deliberations, they said proposals to more aggressively vaccinate wild bison against brucellosis would be ineffective at suppressing the disease.Brucellosis can cause pregnant animals to miscarry.

Some ranchers in Montana want the park to eradicate the disease from Yellowstone bison to prevent transmissions to cattle. About half the park's more than 4,000 bison have been exposed to brucellosis, which is also found in elk.

Yellowstone's chief scientist, Dave Hallac, said the scientific panel's recommendations will be considered as the park seeks to finish a decade-long bison vaccination study that includes the possibility of shooting the animals with specialized vaccination guns.

A final report from the scientists is expected in about three months, and Hallac said a final decision on a vaccination program is expected within a year.

Panel members also said the existing approach of keeping cattle and bison separate appeared to be effective because there have been no documented transmissions of brucellosis from bison to cattle.

And controlling the park's more than 4,000 bison through hunting and slaughter will likely continue -- even though it has not had any apparent effect on reducing brucellosis levels, they said.

More research was recommended on proposals to use contraception as a way to control brucellosis and prevent its spread.

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