What’s that old gag? Be alert – the world needs more lerts!

Sorry – sometimes I can’t help myself. (My dad’s often said there was no help for me, too!) But I did want to make you aware of a structure that’s in place in AZ called ALIRT – Arizona Livestock Incident Response Team.

If you recall from Some Numbers, we’ve got quite a few livestock roaming across the ranges of AZ. Sometimes bad things happen to large numbers of them. There’s a group of folks, primarily large animal veterinarians, that are willing and able to respond to such needs. That’s a really boiled-down summation of what ALIRT is all about.

So let me give those of you with more time a few more details about ALIRT (or follow that link to the U of A hosted page that provides details and further links.)

I mentioned these folks are primarily large animal veterinarians. But also involved are Cooperative Extension staff, folks whose jobs have them spending a lot of time roaming the ranges of Arizona and working with livestock and livestock producers. All these people have a background in livestock health, husbandry and some dealing with diseases (not only infectious ones but also toxicities as many of the plants in the desert can be quite deadly.)

Most livestock producers work with a veterinarian if not regularly, at least now and then. So hopefully disease matters get noticed before too much damage is done. And from a government perspective, a handful of diseases have been targeted for eradication or control along with the foreign ones that we screen to keep out.

Essentially then on one hand we have folks to deal with the day-to-day troubles (practitioners they’re often called). And we have folks who run out and deal with the foreign animal diseases (FADDs in the government jargon). But some years back it was recognized that this pattern left something of a gap. In that gap occasionally we develop some homegrown problems that threaten to get out of hand.

So from a gap analysis (sometimes I can’t help but fall back to my systems/TQM – total quality management – days) grew the idea of a group that could fill the gap: ALIRT.

ADA, UofA Cooperative Extension, AZ Cattlemen all got together to bring the idea to life. Close to 20 folks are now ALIRT trained, most being private veterinarians. These folks volunteered for the extra training and have been provided some extra tools so they are better prepared to deal with these problems when they arise.

It works this way. A livestock producer whose been having more than the usual troubles notifies her/his veterinarian or extension agent. That person then contacts an ALIRT veterinarian or a member of the ALIRT Committee. The committee evaluates the situation and decides whether it meets the criteria for an ALIRT response.

I know it may strike you as wrong-headed that a committee make a decision about a matter that involves a fair amount of urgency. But 1 – it’s a small committee, about a half-dozen of us; and 2 – given modern telecom infrastructure near-instant communications has become commonplace for nearly everyone; and 3 – if need be there are plans in place to act without a quorum’s consent. Bottom line is that the system works well.

In the short time I’ve been involved, it’s been activated 3 times, including one that merited the FBI being apprised of the matter. Fortunately that instance did not conclude with the discovery of a malicious act; only an accidental one as we fairly quickly determined.

So getting back for a moment to my recent blog entries about numbers, if you consider the ADA folks, the USDA folks and now the ALIRT folks, that tallies to less than 50 that protect the livestock of the state of AZ. But it’s very reassuring to me as the person responsible for the safety of so much, to know I have such a wonderful group of folks that I can depend upon.


Some More Numbers

In addition to the dozen or so folks working for the AZ Dept of Ag that I mentioned in Some Numbers at the end of last month, there is also a federal presence in the state whose folks also are involved in livestock matters.

USDA APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) VS (Veterinary Services)  in AZ is comprised of essentially 2 groupings – a staff at the international ports of entry, and those around the state and at the Area Office in Tempe.

The Area Office (including a few field-based people) consists of 1 Area Epidemiologist, 1 Documents Examiner, 1 Animal ID Coordinator, one Animal Health Technician, 1 field Veterinary Medical Officer, 3 administrative staff members and 1 Area Emergency Coordinator shared with the state of New Mexico.

The 3 International Ports each have a Port Veterinarian and an Animal Health Technician whose jobs are to inspect each animal seeking entry into the U.S.

Now for a little more geography:

Arizona shares a border with Mexico that is 370 miles long. Along this border, in addition to the 3 international ports where livestock can legally cross, there is a Native American Reservation which shares a 73 mile border with Mexico, also in the border area are National Forests, National Monuments, and military bases, across which Arizona state personnel have no jurisdiction.

The federal authorities (some of whom I’ve met recently and feel they are solid people dedicated to their jobs) that do supervise these areas are not involved in animal disease surveillance. Please note that in each of FY2010 and FY2011, 44 stray equine in the Mexican border area were gathered, sampled, and tested according to protocol for equine entering from Mexico, requiring significant personnel time and effort (all FY figures are for federal fiscal years.) The reason we have intense livestock inspection that these ports of entry is due to the concerns with foreign animal diseases that are endemic in Mexico that we are striving to keep out.

Now for some traffic numbers:

International Port Crossings
Douglas Nogales San Luis
FY2007 83731 143862 19637
FY2008 63293 128566 17061
FY2009 88759 130085 19732
FY2010 87401 168049 20198
FY2011 108401 162352 17832
FY2012 (1/31/12) 78004 81628 11523

Now for some disease investigation numbers (things that did show positive on a screening test somewhere and needed further investigation. FADI = foreign animal disease investigation; TB = tuberculosis)

Animal Disease Investigations
FADIs TBTraces (all) (federally assisted)
FY2008 19 61 8
FY2009 21 71 26
FY2010 39 48 17
FY2011 37 48 17

As the ADA had only 1 Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostician (a part-time employee) during the FY09-FY11 time, the vast majority of FADIs were conducted by USDA APHIS VS personnel. Arizona is currently dealing with other foreign animal disease incursions (such as the on-going Contagious Equine Metritis case) that AZ’s VS personnel have been critical in managing.

International travel requires federal activities, no state authority can perform these jobs. Here are some numbers for animals and animal products traveling out of the USA leaving from an AZ port (including airports).

CVI Endorsements for International Travel

Animal Certificate Endorsments Product Certificate Endorsements
FY2006 1218 468
FY2007 1709 773
FY2008 1503 741
FY2009 2201 692
FY2010 1901 620
FY2011 2155 917

As you can clearly see the number of endorsements for international travel has continued to grow over time, showing only a modest reduction in one of the most severe economic declines in memory. Of the animal certificates approximately 60% are for small animals, 40% for equine and anecdotally 80% of the traffic for these certificates is walk-in.

With the announced closure of the AZ Area Office in Tempe, port staffing has been stated as being maintained. It appears the remainder of the federal VS staff in AZ will be moving to other states.

Frankly I’m not sure how the hole that will result is going to be filled. “Sporadically” and “inadequately” are the terms that spring to my mind, especially concerning the international travel issue. But then maybe that’s because the sunlight hasn’t quite made it here yet today and with it I’ll be able to see better.