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Wendy Thomas' Letter to Governor Schweitzer

Wendy Thomas wrote an excellent, informative letter to the governor. Wendy, her sister Becky, and their father Hank Rate all spoke out at the recent meeting between the
governor and the livestock owners in our area.

Wendy has great things to say about being someone with cattle who wants to live with bison.

The letter:

Wendy Thomas
Gardiner MT 59030

Governor Brian Schweitzer
Office of the Governor
Capitol Station
Helena, MT 59601

Governor Schweitzer:

We have a small place on the north edge of Yellowstone Park just out of Gardiner. We run about twenty five head of cows on 70 acres. I grew up on this place and my husband and I are currrently raising our three children here. While not our primary income, it is our primary life.

We are thrilled that you are addressing the buffalo issue. The current plan is unacceptable. It is absolutely crazy to attempt to manage Yellowstone National Park like a ranch. It is the last “Serengeti” in the temperate zones of North America. We live here because of the wildlife in the area. We share our place with elk, deer, mountain lions, bears, an occasional buffalo, and a various assundry of other animals and birds. It might be more accurate to say they share their place with us. Either way, generally we have a symbiotic relationship.

We are concerned at the proposal to “temporarily lease” the grazing rights of the cattle owners in the valley. We live here for the wildlife, and if the only permanent solution to the buffalo issue was to rid the valley of cows, we would do so. However, we aren’t willing to give up our lifestyle and cattle line for politics and refuse to be “terrorized” by the threat of brucellosis.

Our cattle line has been on this place since the early 1900’s. Much of the beef that fed Yellowstone at the turn of the century was raised and fattened on this place. One of our old sheds was the mangle plant where they processed mangles to fatten the cattle before they were shipped to the park. My folks bought this place and cows in 1968 and every cow here is of that bloodline. We have worked hard to build this herd and are proud of the 700 pound steers we send to market every year.

We don’t live here for the money. Both my husband and I have good college educations and could make more money living anywhere else. We live here for the lifestyle that the area provides. I love to ride cows in the summer and see elk. Last summer, for the first time in twenty years, we had a cow eaten by a grizzly bear. It wasn’t pleasant and certainly not kind to the pocketbook, but is all part of the big picture that we love.

Without our small cow herd, our children will grow up to be different people. My values were defined by being raised on what I considered a ranch. There were always chores to do and if they weren’t done critters suffered or died. It instilled in me the ability to work hard, a sense of responsibility and ultimately pride. In a world where the ranch metality as well as the ranches are melting into subdivisions and chores are melting into TV and vidwo games, this lifestyle is invaluable to us. They used to say, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Anymore it should be, “all play and now work makes Jack useless.”

There is absolutely no reason that cows and buffalo cannot share the same country with minimal chance of brucellosis infection. Our cows run with the elk all winter on our place and all summer in Cinnabar Basin where we run part of our herd in the summer. As do the cows in Martinsdale, Lewistown, Bozeman and other places all over the state. Running cows with any wildlife poses a slight threat to our brucellosis free status. It works out that percentages and populations dictate that the brucellosis infection threat from running cows with buffalo or elk is the same.

The answer lies in the vaccinating and testing of cows. We have always vaccinated and I assumed it was required. I was surprised to find that it isn’t mandatory. It would be much cheaper for the state to require and pay for testing and vaccination of the cows in the Valley south of Jankee Jim than to lease grazing rights. You will hear conflicting evidence that the vaccination is anywhere from 75% to 95% effective. Well, that remains true whether cows are running with buffalo or elk. The bottom lins is that the chance of transmission with vaccination is miniscule.

You may or may not be surprised to find that several people in the valley are “stocking up” on cows and/or keeping cows in anticipation of a buy out or lease program. If you announce a vaccination and test program, I would gamble that you will see the number of cows in the Upper Yellowstone Valley plummet. We would strongly support a state stand that would require mandatory testing and vaccinating at the cattle owner’s expense of all cows in the upper valley. That would really separate the wheat from the chaff. We already pay to vaccinate and are in full support of mandatory vaccination. It is purely irresponsible and stupid to run cattle anywhere in the United States and not bangs vaccinate. The testing would be an added expense, but wouldn’t make or break us.

We are wide open to discussion on the buffalo, but want to make it known that the fear of brucellosis transmission from buffalo has exploded out of proportion and that the diminutive threat of infection is out there whether the buffalo roam or not. It is not increased by allowing buffalo out of the park and is decreased immensely by required vaccination.

Thank you so much for giving the issue attention. The current practice of haze and capture fails in all areas. I am excited to be able to discuss the issues. It has been a closed case for too long. You have demonstrated that you have a good grasp of the situation. We are on the right path.


Wendy Thomas

Posted on Sunday, April 30, 2006 at 08:25AM by Registered CommenterBear Creek Council | CommentsPost a Comment | References3 References

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