Minnesota’s ramped up efforts to control the spread of chronic wasting disease among its deer herd may appear similar to the reaction to the spread of invasive species.
But the spread of CWD is a little different, said Larry Petersen, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources International Falls area wildlife supervisor. Invasives often have limiting factors: Can’t survive or reproduce in cold or drought conditions.
Not so with CWD.
“There isn’t any known inhibition for the disease to occur where we are,” he said this week. “It’s not like it’s too cold. We have the right species — moose, deer, elk get it. So there’s no reason why it wouldn’t or couldn’t show up here... So yes, the disease can come here.”
So far, though, that’s not happened.
“Our hope is by doing some things we can prevent that,” Petersen said, pointing as an example to the prohibition of importing whole deer, elk, moose and caribou carcasses into Minnesota from all U.S. states and Canadian provinces, regardless of their CWD status.
That’s just one step among many being taken to limit the spread of the neurological disease affecting the cervid family: deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and caribou. It causes characteristic spongy degeneration in the brain of an infected animal, said the DNR’s website at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/cwd/about.html.
The DNR announced Wednesday that a wild deer harvested in Houston County on Nov. 17 has been identified as presumptive positive for chronic wasting disease.
And based on CWD test results from the early 2018 hunting season, the DNR is intensifying its response efforts.
Final CWD test results and preliminary findings from the DNR’s ongoing research about deer movement in southeastern Minnesota will affect how the DNR manages the disease going forward.
Current actions include:
- Opening two separate three-day deer hunts in December in and around the disease management zone.
- Providing shooting permits to landowners interested in removing deer from their property. DNR staff will reach out directly to landowners within the CWD management zone with information about that program.
- Conducting targeted culling starting in mid-January. The DNR will be working with local landowners and coordinating with the United States Department of Agriculture to remove deer from areas where CWD-positive deer were found.
- Surveying southeastern Minnesota hunters and landowners to measure attitudes toward the disease and DNR management, and to measure support for potential management actions.
- Holding a public meeting in Preston to provide information about CWD and the DNR’s management response to its discovery.
Petersen said the state response is intended to try to slow the spread by animal-to-animal contact by minimizing the number of animals having the disease.
“That’s the idea behind targeting, sampling and in some cases special hunts to increase harvest to decrease the number of deer and likelihood of it spreading as fast.”
Petersen has been involved in sampling in the southern part of the state four seasons to help get enough deer sampled in target areas to provide information about the spread. He said it takes just about every staff member of the DNR wildlife section field staff, researchers, volunteers and students to do the sampling.
“The DNR takes this very seriously,” he said. “It’s a high priority for us to get those samples.”
And concern is also at the federal level. In November, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar led a bipartisan effort urging the Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior to conduct an extensive examination of chronic wasting disease.
Meanwhile, Borderland, along with the rest of the state, was sampled in about 2010 to get an idea of where CWD might be present, Petersen said.
“So far, it hasn’t disappeared from somewhere it’s been discovered, and is spreading,” he said. “The trend doesn’t look good.”
Ongoing efforts include feeding bans in 11 counties, some of which are not known to have CWD. Feeding and attractants ban affects six southeast counties. An attractant is defined as cervid urine, blood, gland oil, feces or other bodily fluids.
Feeding and attractant bans are in place across the state to prevent concentrations of wild deer in areas with a higher risk for CWD. These are precautionary steps DNR took after CWD-positive deer were found both in the wild and on deer farms. Feeding bans encompass wider areas because food sources can concentrate deer and allow for close contact – one of the mechanisms for CWD spread.