Riverbend Ranch Gift Supports Wildlife and Livestock Health
Much of Wyoming's economy-agriculture, tourism, outdoor recreation, and hunting-depends on the health of its livestock and wildlife. Working to ensure the wellness of the state's animal population is the University of Wyoming Wildlife-Livestock Health Center. Support for this center will come from an important gift of property, the Riverbend Ranch, as well as from the Wyoming Legislature and other sources.
"Being able to build critical mass in the area of wildlife and livestock health only strengthens us," says Frank Galey, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "The University of Wyoming having a presence there is important to the state. It's important to tourism, it's important to the ag industry, and it's important to our wildlife and hunting interests, so we have healthy populations."
The Wildlife-Livestock Health Center
The Wildlife-Livestock Health Center is a research and outreach program at the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Within the center, researchers and graduate students focus on diseases that affect and can be transmitted among large domestic and wild animals such as elk, deer, pronghorn, moose, cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. These diseases include brucellosis, pneumonia, and plague and the prion diseases of chronic wasting, mad cow, and scrapie.
"We're nationally and internationally known in this field," says Dean Galey. "Even though we don't have a veterinary school, we're a go-to place for this kind of research and knowledge in these diseases."
The center includes researchers and graduate students seeking to improve modeling, testing, diagnosis, treatment, and vaccination for this cluster of diseases. Scientists also hope to help agricultural producers and land managers strike a balance between costs associated with disease and those associated with disease control.
Researchers within the center include Jeff Adamovicz, Gerry Andrews, Todd Cornish, Jonathan Fox, Myrna Miller, Ken Mills, Don Montgomery, Donal O'Toole, Merl Raisbeck, Hermann Schatzl, Brant Schumaker, and Chaoqun Yao. Other partners include Dean Frank Galey and Walt Cook and the Wyoming Game and Fish's Terry Kreeger, Cynthia Tate, and Hank Edwards.
The center benefits from the recent construction of a biosafety level 3 laboratory at the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory, which is part of UW. Research into agents such as brucellosis can only be conducted at a BSL-3 laboratory.
The Gift of the Ranch
The historic Riverbend Ranch has been gifted to UW by a generous anonymous donor, the proceeds from which will benefit the Wildlife-Livestock Health Center.
"The Riverbend Ranch, once it's been realized, will allow us to add a new excellence chair in the area," says Dean Galey. "It will allow us to add a new researcher in our new biosafety level 3 laboratory that allows for research into these diseases, and then it will probably allow for a couple of graduate students."
Located 17 miles from Laramie along the Laramie River, Riverbend is just over 6,700 acres. It contains three sets of ranch houses, irrigated cropland, abundant wildlife, prime hunting and fishing habitat, and a private reservoir. It is valued at just over $10 million.
The Riverbend Ranch has a long and storied history. The Sioux, Shoshone, and Teton-Dakotas migrated through the area at various times, until the land was given by the federal government to the railroad. It was sold and broken into ranches, which were passed from one family to another-most notable of which was Oda Mason and his daughter Violet Dinwiddie. In 2005, the land was purchased by the donor, and more parcels were also added since then.
The generous gift of the Riverbend Ranch will make a significant impact on UW's ability to help sustain the health of animal populations, and it will add significant momentum to this important fundraising priority.
"This funding will act as a seed, bringing together specialists with an interest in wildlife diseases and forming a critical mass for building up research which is going to be beneficial for Wyoming wildlife and citizens and which is also competitive at an international level," says Dr. Hermann Schatzl. "The new research environment fueled by this funding will hopefully translate into cures for wildlife diseases in form of vaccines."
"The gift of the Riverbend takes us a great deal of the way to building mass here," adds Dean Galey.
The center has also received support from the Wyoming State Legislature and other private sources.
Generous state funding has supported Dr. Hermann Schatzl as the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Prion Biology, the BSL-3 laboratory, the Consortium for the Advancement of Brucellosis Science, and the Wyoming Wildlife Disease Research Partnership.
Private funding includes the endowments for the Kurt Swanson Bucholz Training Fund, the Richard and Barbara Powell Wildlife-Livestock Disease Training Fund, the Beth Williams and Tom Thorne Wildlife Disease Training Fund, and the Wildlife-Livestock Diseases Endowed Chair. In addition, other donors have provided support for this initiative.
Two diseases of particular concern in Wyoming are brucellosis and prion disease (chronic wasting, mad cow, and scrapie).
The first, brucellosis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes animals to abort their young, as well as sweating and joint and muscle pain. It can affect humans, cattle, elk, and bison and is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated meat or unsterilized milk or contact with infected secretions. The disease has been eradicated in much of the United States but still exists in the elk and bison near Yellowstone Park.
The second, prion disease, causes neurological degeneration (loss of the ability to control the body). It includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease in cows, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and scrapie in sheep. Prion disease has been transmitted to humans in the past, though at present chronic wasting has not made that leap. This constellation of diseases can be transmitted genetically, through social contact, or orally through remnant proteins in the environment. They may exhibit a long dormant phase, but the clinical phase lasts only a matter of months and is always fatal.
UW's reputation in the study of chronic wasting and related diseases is built upon decades of research. An exemplar, Dr. Beth Williams was a nationally and internationally recognized leader in research into chronic wasting before her tragic death in 2004 from a car accident. Dr. Hermann Schatzl has since come on board as the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Prion Biology. He has worked for 19 years in the field and in previous research has achieved some headway toward a vaccine.
"There are many many issues which make this disease so fascinating, so challenging," says Dr. Schatzl. "The intention is to make something that we can use to vaccinate deer and elk in a wildlife situation. The gift is a fantastic thing."
Top: Cattle on the Riverbend Ranch (courtesy UW Photo Service)
Middle: The Riverbend Ranch
Bottom: Dr. Hermann Schatzl (courtesy UW Photo Service)