a fellow llama packer writes:
Is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the first government agency in the United States to ban the pack llama based on the premise that they are a disease risk to wildlife? Having been actively involved when other government agencies have proposed similar bans (over the last 25 years), to the best of my knowledge BLM (Alaska’s Eastern Interior Resource Management Area) is the first to do so. Now that a precedent has been set, other BLM resource management areas in Alaska with wild sheep and goat habitat will likely soon follow with pack llama prohibitions. The danger that we now face is that other government agencies will soon follow BLM’s lead in a domino effect. Could BLM lands in the lower 48 states be next? Will some other government agency in Alaska or the lower 48 be next?
BLM has successfully imposed the prohibition on pack llamas in Alaska’s Fortymile district through their recently signed and approved Eastern Interior Resource Management Plan (RMP). According to BLM, (and per page 1700 of the EIS for the Eastern Interior RMP) the provisions regarding camelids were based largely on the following publications:
1) Garde, E., et al. 2005. Examining the Risk of Disease Transmission between Wild Dall Sheep and Mountain Goats and Introduced Domestic Sheep, Goats, and Llamas in the Northwest Territories.
On page 2 of the above publication it states, “Conversely, contact between llamas and wild Dall’s sheep or goats may result in disease in wild species, but there is insufficient data available to clearly assess the role of camelids as a source of disease at this time (for additional information see Communicable Diseases Risks to Wildlife from Camelids in British Columbia).”
2) Schwantje, et al 2003. Communicable Diseases Risks to Wildlife from Camelids in British Columbia.
On page v of the above publication (Executive Summary) it states “Risks from camelids to wildlife in British Columbia remain hypothetical after this risk assessment, as no direct evidence was found to implicate camelids as sources of significant diseases in wildlife in BC or elsewhere.”
BLM’s decision was not based on fact or science. The basis of the decision for BLM to ban pack llamas are two Canadian publications that pose hypothetical disease risk scenario as readily admitted by the authors. Per Dr. Murray Fowler (world renowned camelid expert) in a letter to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game dated April 9, 2012 (public record) he said that there are errors of interpretation in both of the above Canadian publications that he takes exception to. Llamas are not a reservoir for any infectious disease that may occur in cattle, sheep, goats, or cervids.
BLM has now effectively eliminated a user group based on anecdotal evidence and hypothetical risk scenarios. None of the publications cited by BLM (as the basis of their decision to prohibit pack llamas) provide scientifically defensible evidence of a llama communicable disease risk. These Canadian publications question the conclusions of the most comprehensive collaboration of the vet community to date that found no endemic diseases or transmission to wildlife. Other agencies looked at the science of disease transmission. NPS is almost a zero risk tolerance agency. They looked at the same Canadian studies that BLM based this decision upon but came to a completely different conclusion. For example, pack llamas are welcome in Yellowstone, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. They all have sensitive wild sheep and/or goat habitat. Pack llamas are not prohibited in any of Alaska’s National Parks. Rocky Mountain National Park uses llamas for packing and trail maintenance. If you think that you can be of any assistance in this matter (or know anyone that can), please contact me at the email address below.
Eagle River, Alaska