A bill co-authored by Rep. Rob Ecklund is aimed at reducing the risk that chronic wasting disease will be spread in Minnesota through carcass transport or escaped farmed deer.
Ecklund, along with Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul; Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville; and Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL -Esko, - all deer hunters - met online with reporters representing an equally diverse geography Monday to talk about the bill.
House File 219 was heard Tuesday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Rep. Hansen, Tuesday, after which it is expected to move forward.
"Overall, it's a good bill for the integrity and health of the wild deer herd," Ecklund said.
The lawmakers noted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has in the past been supportive of the provisions that would:
- Allow a licensed deer hunter to kill and possess escaped farmed deer, and other cervidae species, and is not liable to the owner for the loss of the animal. The deer must be tested for CWD at the owner's expense. Owners will be required to provide contact information that enables the deer to be identified as an escaped deer.
- Defines an unloaded muzzle loader.
- Prohibits transport into Minnesota of carcasses obtained by any means.
Opposition to the bill could come from people who farm deer.
Hansen said the state has done a good job of trying to contain CWD, but has not eliminated it. Studies have been completed to understand deer movement and the state just two years ago began to respond to the spread based on those studies.
None of the provisions of the bill are new to the Legislature, they said. Introducing the bill now may keep it from being tied up during budget talks at the end of the session, they said.
"It's all to reduce contact with deer that may have CWD and those that do not," Hansen said, adding Ecklund had authored some of the provisions last year, and during special sessions to keep it alive.
Deer hunting draws 450,000 in the state, making it important to the economy as well as the ecological management of deer, Hansen said.
Becker-Finn said she was proud to stand with Ecklund for the deer hunters in the state, adding hunting likely draws a more diverse group than people realize.
She also said it's important to protect Minnesota's Constitutional right to protect its hunting heritage and produce a healthy deer herd.
If the spread of CWD is not dealt with, it could be devastating to the hunting industry, Sundin described.
"Other states have addressed it, but it's time for us to stand up," he said. "We know how not to stop the spread of disease with COVID, but we can do better with CWD and it's time we do so."
Meanwhile, bans on feeding and attractants in other parts of the state have helped stop the spread of CWD. And the lawmakers said those will be moved around the state as the disease spreads.
"Wherever deer congregate, that's the issue - nose to nose contact - there is risk," Hansen said. "Minimizing risk is what we're trying to do with the bill."
Becker-Finn said if people love and appreciate the animals, they can help protect them by voluntarily not feeding them.