Commissioners hear more on chronic wasting disease containment efforts


GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP Michelle Carstensen of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources presents information on chronic wasting disease containment efforts during the May 7 County Board meeting.
By: 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Michelle Carstensen and Todd Froberg of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) came before the Fillmore County commissioners on Tuesday, May 7, with an update on chronic wasting disease (CWD) management efforts to corner chronic wasting disease in Fillmore County’s whitetail deer population.

Carstensen reported, originally, there had been eight cases of CWD found in the Preston-Lanesboro area in 2016, and that year, 3,000 deer were tested and a special hunt that was held brought in an additional 1,500 deer.  However, in the fall of 2018, there were new cases of CWD detected in a particular area and the first case found in Houston County. 

“I think we throttled off before we should have, because there were more cases found,” she said. “We did offer some extra hunts this past December, and we have also offered landowners the opportunity to take deer on their land if they’re interested.  Some landowners did get engaged with it, but it was not the most successful.” 

She continued, elaborating that recent aerial surveys showed that work done had had “no effect” and the number of infected deer stayed the same. 

“This just drills home how hard it is to reduce the deer population,” she said. “We brought in USDA sharpshooters who targeted deer, and that way, they’re not surviving all the way to fall.  This isn’t an inexpensive thing – it’s a $300,000 effort…really, the endpoint of CWD is unknown.  It takes up to 1,500 degrees to eliminate the prion that causes it.  Bleach doesn’t remove it…we have taken 19 deer to the University of Minnesota’s alkaline digester out of the 52 statewide.” 

Carstensen noted that the venison from the 553 deer taken in southeast Minnesota, that was deemed to be edible, was distributed through Share the Harvest so the game did not go to waste. She also said planning continues for removal of deer from zones where CWD has been found. 

“We’re working on a zone outside of southeastern Minnesota right now,” she said.    

Commissioner Randy Dahl inquired as to what becomes of deer farms and whether fencing stays up. 

Carstensen replied, “The USDA buys out the farm if they decide they need to – there’s an agreement between the USDA and owner, and the max time that a farmer has to maintain fences is five years.  We’re concerned because that’s not long enough – the prion survives longer than that – and if they clean their equipment with bleach, it’s not going to be cleaned.” 

Commissioner Duane Bakke questioned whether any farms try to return deer to their land to find out whether CWD is present. Carstensen cited instances of when a similar prion infected sheep 16 years after the original flock was removed. 

A member of the gallery wanted to know if anything is being done to pinpoint the source of the infection in the Preston area, and Carstensen replied there had been no CWD identified between 2002 and 2014 but that with the 2016 discovery, it was likely that infection happened three to five years before. 

John Zanmiller, of the Bluffland Whitetails, registered his appreciation of the county’s willingness to allow sharpshooters to remove deer from county land.  “I’d like to thank the board because when I was last here, you talked about allowing sharpshooters, and it’s a very difficult subject, but this has been very valuable,” he said. “It also helped to dispel a lot of myths.” 

Zanmiller said he helped distribute venison to families that had signed up to receive meat from the hunt and there was a long list of appreciative people, then thanked the commissioners for their support of the USDA’s sharpshooters and the DNR’s quest to manage CWD. 

“My hope is that the courage this board has shown is contagious…because this disease moves the fastest in the back of pickup trucks and in trailers,” he said. “Hopefully, someday science will catch up and we’ll be able to be rid of it.  I want to thank you for showing the courage in allowing the USDA sharpshooters on county property.  I hope that the relationship continues.”

Jim Vagts, of Bristol Township just west of Harmony, spoke up after Zanmiller, telling the board that the land he owns will someday belong to his grandchildren and that he hopes there will be whitetail deer to hunt there.

“CWD is the most important wildlife issue today, and we need to support the DNR – the DNR will need a lot of support going forward — and I want to commend this county for its efforts,” Vagts said. “A positive buck was discovered a mile and a half from my farm, and that’s distressing, but not surprising.  You had a landowner harvest, and I’m doing my part to combat it, everything I can because I want my grandchildren to come back here.”

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