CWD continues to be concerning issue in southeastern Minnesota


About 300 people turned out for the informational meeting sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources on the chronic wasting disease problem in southeastern Minnesota. CHARLIE WARNER/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
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CHARLIE WARNER
Bluff Country Newspaper Group

Department of Natural Resources officials reported the 2017 and 2018 efforts have NOT eliminated CWD (chronic wasting disease) in the Preston-Lanesboro area. Although there has been some recent disease spread, 75 percent of all cases have been found between Preston and Lanesboro, referred to as the CWD Core Area. Eliminating the disease in the core area may not be realistic, and the DNR’s goal hinges on reducing risk of disease transmission among deer. This means limiting deer-to-deer contact through a feeding/attractant ban and reducing deer numbers.

That, in a nutshell, is what a group of about 300 hunters, landowners and sportsmen were told during the public meeting hosted by the Department of Natural Resources held Tuesday, Dec. 18, at the Fillmore Central gym in Preston.

The meeting was held to update area residents on the on-going effort by the DNR to get a handle on the chronic wasting disease that is fatal to white tail deer. The disease was detected in the area’s white tail deer population in 2016. At that time the DNR launched a program aimed at mitigating the problem. In 2016 two animals tested positive. This past fall 13 tested positive for CWD.

CWD is a fatal brain disease found in North American deer, elk and moose (as well as reindeer in Europe) but is not known to affect human health. Prior to the 2016 discovery of two infected deer harvested between Preston and Lanesboro, the disease has only been found in southern Minnesota in one wild deer harvested near Pine Island in 2010.

DNR staff spent about 90 minutes explaining what the disease is, how it spreads and the measures being utilized to limit the spread of it. Those measures included the establishment of a disease management zone, a special winter deer hunt, landowner shooting permits and the necessity to conduct an aerial deer population survey.

Drs. Michelle Carstensen and Lou Cornicelli of the DNR went over the bulk of the information through a PowerPoint presentation on two large screens at the front of the auditorium. They informed the group that 13 new cases of CWD were detected this past fall in and around the disease management zone in Fillmore County. That brings the total number of reported cases since 2016 to 30.

Two separate three-day hunts have been scheduled in and around the disease management zone for late December. The first is slated from Friday, Dec. 21, through Sunday, Dec. 23, and the second will be held the following weekend, from Dec. 28 through Dec. 30. The hunts are open to residents and nonresidents and will be held in deer permit zones 603, 347, 348 and portions of zones 343 and 345 south of Interstate 90.

The special hunt boundary was expanded this year because new CWD-positive deer were found outside the established disease management zone, known as permit area 603. When diseased animals are detected, a new 10-mile radius disease management zone is established. The expanded area now includes the Forestville State Park and Bucksnort Dam areas.

During the question and answer session of the meeting, it was brought up that a CWD positive deer was harvested in Houston County, but there was no disease management zone established there. Cornicelli explained that animal was reported after the special hunt zones had been established for this year.

“It takes a lot of organizing and planning to set up a new zone. It’s something you just can’t do overnight. But we plan to add that area in the future,” Cornicelli replied.

Cornicelli stated the DNR is not attempting to eradicate the deer herd. It’s not practical, feasible or necessary. The best case scenario would be to achieve the kind of results that occurred in the Pine Island area.

When CWD was found in the Pine Island area, the DNR established a 300-square mile management zone (Zone 602). A ban on recreational deer feeding in four surrounding counties was set. A total of 1,180 deer were harvested through a special season that first winter and tested. No additional CWD-positive deer were found, but the DNR continued surveillance in Zone 602 for three consecutive years (2011-2013) through hunter-harvested sampling. In 2014, Zone 602 was dissolved back into the original deer permit areas 341 and 343.

Cornicelli and Carstensen both stressed the potential to eliminate CWD in southeast Minnesota requires aggressive and swift action. The goal will not be attainable without the cooperation of hunters and landowners. If CWD becomes established here, it will remain a significant health threat to the deer herd locally and statewide.

“Only through working together can we hope to successfully fight CWD and maintain a healthy and productive deer herd for future generations.,” Cornicelli added.

Hunters can find CWD test results of deer tested through mandatory surveillance, as well as locations of positive test results and statistics at mndnr.gov/cwdcheck.