By JOHN O'CONNELL
ST. ANTHONY, Idaho -- Ranchers meeting July 11 with Idaho State Veterinarian Bill Barton were receptive to his proposed permitting program for cattle leaving a designated surveillance area for brucellosis near the Yellowstone National Park border.
In fact, most ranchers advocated for a stricter program to send a message to Idaho's trade partners that the state takes the threat of brucellosis seriously.
The meeting met a legislative requirement to take public input before changing a state rule. The permit will be free and will take effect, pending approval by the Legislature, after the last day of the next session.
The rule change states: "All persons transporting sexually intact cattle over 18 months of age from within the DSA to an Idaho location outside of the DSA shall be required to obtain a movement permit via telephone from the division of animal industries at least 24 hours in advance."
Phones will be staffed by Idaho State Department of Agriculture personnel who issue cattle import permits and will be taken at any time. Ranchers will be asked basic details, including how many animals they're moving and when required brucellosis blood tests were conducted. Civil penalties of $100 to $5,000 could be assessed for permit violations
North Dakota and South Dakota have already imposed testing requirements on cattle originating from any part of Idaho, and Texas is poised to implement a similar requirement, Barton said. He hopes the permit will prevent other states from following suit. ISDA covers the cost of blood tests, required for animals leaving the DSA that have grazed within it between Jan. 1 and July 15, when calving season takes place. Brucellosis can spread through afterbirth and causes cattle to abort their young.
The permit should place Idaho on par with Montana and Wyoming, where brand inspectors check ownership whenever cattle cross county lines and can also ensure brucellosis blood tests have been done.
Barton told the ranchers the goal of the permit is "maintaining trade with U.S. producers at the least cost to you. I can pay for testing leaving the DSA, but I can't pay for it statewide. It's a huge trade issue."
The DSA, implemented in 2011, includes two quarantined herds and was expanded last fall to include all of Fremont County due to a positive tests just outside of the borders. It also encompasses Teton County and parts of Caribou and Bonneville counties.
Ranchers' testimony at the July 11 meeting convinced Barton against adding a special permit exception for ranchers with herd plans outlining how to mitigate their brucellosis risks. About 80 percent of ranchers within the DSA have herd plans already, and many ranchers voiced support for making herd plans mandatory, including for producers outside of the DSA who enter it for grazing.
St. Anthony rancher Luke Davis fears exemptions would complicate the program and hinder producers from learning about it through word of mouth.
"The biggest problem to getting anything like this enforced is educating the people who are unaware and communicating," Davis said.
Jim Hagenbarth, of Dillon, Mont., said phone calls are simple for ranchers to make, and exceptions would only weaken Idaho's program.
"I think it makes it a lot stronger for Idaho if any time any animal leaves the DSA, you call for a permit, and we're going to know what to do -- call every time," Hagenbarth said.