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OPINION: Better ways to deal with brucellosis; more opinions

BILLINGS, Mont. -- For two decades, the battle against brucellosis has targeted Yellowstone bison. Recently, ranchers and government agencies have turned their sights on elk, too.

BILLINGS, Mont. -- For two decades, the battle against brucellosis has targeted Yellowstone bison. Recently, ranchers and government agencies have turned their sights on elk, too.

There are several ideas about what to do: drastically reduce the greater-Yellowstone elk population; create a separate cattle zone in Montana around the park; and develop more effective livestock vaccines and effective vaccine delivery for wildlife. Perhaps the best place to start is to update federal regulations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Services continues to enforce Draconian rules that don't necessarily fit today's brucellosis situation. If any herd in a state has one animal that tests positive, the entire state can be punished, which is now Montana's predicament. Meanwhile, the Forest Service, another USDA agency, allows Wyoming to operate elk feeding grounds, despite strong scientific consensus that the feed grounds increase brucellosis prevalence in wildlife. Such conflicting policies don't make sense.

In four Wyoming counties adjoining Yellowstone Park, ranchers already have to test all of their cattle regularly, which is what APHIS soon may require of the whole state. If the Daniel, Wyo., rancher with 20 infected cattle opts to keep his herd instead of sending them all to slaughter, Wyoming will lose its brucellosis-free status -- even though the rancher would test his stock just as APHIS would require ranchers to do statewide. It doesn't make sense to pressure a rancher to kill the whole herd when a test-and-slaughter program will eradicate the infected livestock.

Frank Galey, dean of the University of Wyoming's College of Agriculture and chairman of the state's Brucellosis Coordination Team, says federal rule changes will be discussed at the group's fall meeting.

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"I'm thinking, and I think the ranchers are also thinking, in this day and age when dealing with a wildlife reservoir, the major question becomes: How essential is it to depopulate?" Galey says.

In Helena, Mont., in early August, Yellowstone Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis spoke to the Montana Board of Livestock and called for:

  •  Finding new resources to develop effective and sustainable vaccinations for both wildlife and livestock.
  •  Implementing management changes that "reflect the current landscape, science and knowledge of our talented field staffs."
  •  Finding places where bison are welcome and present no threat to livestock to live outside the park.
  •  "Careful and considerate review, revision and strengthening of the regulatory framework surrounding livestock and wildlife disease management that ensure the long term sustainability of both."
  •  Listening to scientists, regulators, ranchers, rangers, tribes, sportsmen, conservationists and the public at large.

Such a unified, multipronged approach will be needed to make significant headway on the complex problems brucellosis poses for livestock and wildlife. A Montana Board of Livestock spokesman says the board is considering Lewis' invitation to visit Yellowstone's northern range later this summer. It's a trip worth making for a dialogue that must continue.
Billings (Mont.) Gazette

Cellulosic ethanol a good start

HELENA, Mont. -- Montana's top political leaders -- Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the state's full congressional delegation -- traveled to Butte, Mont., in early August to add a little luster to a small plant researching a new way to produce ethanol.

"We're trying to point out how important this really is," says Rep. Denny Rehberg.

The facility is perfecting an enzyme-based process by which waste portions of a plant -- a corn stalk, say, rather than the corn itself -- is used to produce cellulosic ethanol from the fiber.

That's important, and not only to make ethanol production more efficient. Many have blamed increased ethanol production as part of the reason for increased food prices this year. And whether that's true, there remains the dubious logic of using an increasing amount of food for energy production in a world in which more and more people are going hungry.

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The $1.5 million research plant, built by California-based AE Biofuels, only has a few employees at this point, but it hopes to build a full-scale, $100 million plant somewhere in the country as early as next year.

By itself, a cheaper and more efficient ethanol-production process isn't likely to put an end to this country's dependence of foreign oil. But it is part of a mix of many alternative energy sources that, together, just might do the trick.

Helena (Mont.) Independent Record

Ending trade talks is harmful

GLOVERSILLE, N.Y. -- Truly free international trade is a myth, of course. Virtually every country in the world has some pet peeve concerning trade rules. Often, they block attempts to increase commercial traffic in the world marketplace.

Seven years of negotiations on a new World Trade Organization agreement collapsed recently in Geneva -- because of protectionist demands by China and India.

Both countries demanded strict protectionist measures for certain of their industries, pri-marily agriculture, while insisting on open access to sell their goods throughout the world.

Obviously, collapse of the talks is bad news for the world economy, especially for high-productivity nations such as ours. New markets that might have been opened to U.S. farmers and manufacturers now will remain closed. Old trade barriers against them in some nations will remain, instead of being lifted.

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But failure of the trade talks will harm residents of developing countries even more, by limiting their abilities to grow through trade and by making them continue to rely primarily on their own nations' farms for food.

No one involved in the Geneva talks was willing to say that they had failed entirely -- though that certainly seemed to be the case. U.S. and other negotiators, many of whom had agreed to major concessions, should resume discussing trade later this year -- without allowing the Chinese and Indians to scuttle the project.

Gloversville (N.Y.) Leader-Herald

Don't touch CRP acres

MANKATO, Minn. -- The argument by some farm groups and members of Congress that the Conservation Reserve Program should be gutted to allow more crop production is fundamentally flawed.

Fortunately, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer isn't going along with the folly.

Nearly 35 million acres, most in the Great Plains, is enrolled in CRP. The program, started in the 1980s, pays farmers who agree to idle marginal farmland -- usually for 10 to 15 years -- and plant it in grass or other protective vegetation.

With recent high prices for corn and other grains there has been pressure put on the Ag Department to allow farmers to get out of their CRP contracts early without paying any penalty.

Schafer should be commended for protecting the nation's most successful farm conservation program.

The program remains in jeopardy, however. Schafer says he may reconsider his decision if there are future reductions in crop yields in the United States.

Putting the land back in crop production would do little or nothing to alleviate high crop prices.

Allowing the early release of the CRP land would result in the loss of billions of dollars of taxpayers investment in what has been a highly successful conservation program.

The CRP provides excellent habitat for wildlife, holds down erosion and protects streams and lakes by filtering runoff.

And, in the next few years, contracts will be ending for millions of acres of CRP. With high commodity and land prices, many farmers will choose to not re-enroll in the program.

Rather than look for ways to curtail the conservation program, Congress should be looking for ways to improve enticements for farmers to keep marginal land in the CRP.

Mankato (Minn.) Free Press

Schafer's dong the right thing

FARGO, N.D. -- Defenders of the Conservation Reserve Program got more than half a loaf when the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would not allow acres to be put into crop production without repayment from farmers enrolled in the program. That disincentive most likely will result in maintaining current acreage in CRP, at least for a few more years.

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer's call was the right call. Schafer, a former two-term North Dakota governor, probably understands the conservation and wildlife benefits of CRP better than anyone in USDA. He also understands the economic balance between the wildlife benefits of CRP and the potential for more crop production and grazing on CRP acres.

That economic factor cannot be minimized in North Dakota and other Great Plains states where CRP has been the single most important component in the increase in populations of upland birds and other wildlife species, including deer, waterfowl and nongame animals and birds. The explosion in the pheasant population, for example, is unprecedented in North Dakota. The bird's range has expanded from western counties to nearly every county south of U.S. Highway 2.

As the game bird population expanded, so did the economic activity associated with hunting. The so-called pheasant economy in the west and south central (and expanding every year) owes its very existence to the habitat restoration in CRP. The same is true for waterfowl numbers. Ducks Unlimited estimates that nationwide, more than 2.2 million ducks have been added to the annual migration because of CRP. DU says some 13.5 million pheasants have been added to the prairies.

Schafer's news was not all positive for CRP's future. More than 9 million acres of CRP contracts expire in the next two years. The 2008 farm bill has a CRP cap, and acreage could drop from the current 39.2 million acres previously authorized to 32 million authorized in the new bill. The program is also at risk because cropland rental rates have spiked because of rising farm commodity prices, thus making CRP less attractive to farmers. One way to preserve as many CRP acres as possible would be to raise payments to landowners.

CRP is arguably the most successful, most popular farm/conservation program in the nation's history. It has accomplished what it was designed to do: protect marginal land, reduce soil erosion, restore grasses and other native plants, increase wildlife populations and provide farmers with a fair price for using their lands for conservation. Long-term contracts have been crucial to its remarkable success. It would be a monumental mistake to diminish CRP by making it less financially viable for landowners. The program works. If anything, it should be expanded.

The Fargo (N.D.) Forum

VeraSun ethanol plant just what N.D. needs

WAHPETON, N.D. -- VeraSun, one of the nation's largest ethanol producers, recently announced that its newest plant located near Hankinson, N.D., has now started production. The Hankinson facility is the 12th VeraSun biorefinery in operation and the third to come online this year. The plant is capable of producing 110 million gallons of ethanol per year. It currently employs 50 people -- welcome news since the Imation plant is closing very soon.

In our opinion, VeraSun is making a great business decision given the current market conditions and demand for alternative fuels. America's dependence on foreign oil will continue to drive the ethanol market to new heights.

They have strategically located the new facility just off I-29, giving them instant access to a major interstate. They also took advantage of the abundant cheap land that is available in North Dakota compared to other states with fewer rural areas. Probably the biggest benefit VeraSun will see is the quality of the work force available here in eastern North Dakota.

We have one of the best work forces in the nation, it's just that simple.

Wahpeton (N.D.) Daily News

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