Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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DNR wildlife staffers attend CWD conference in Denver

Associate Editor

St. Paul Minnesota biologists joined others from around the
country in Denver last week to address the nation’s top wildlife
disease concern chronic wasting disease in deer and elk.

Ed Boggess, DNR Wildlife resource manager, was among a
contingent that included DNR wildlife researchers Glenn DelGiudice
and Chris DePerno, and DNR Ag Policy Director Wayne Edgerton, as
well as members of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. Boggess
said the symposium covered all aspects of CWD, including strategies
for managing the always-fatal brain malady in the animals.

“It indicated to us that our plans for CWD monitoring are right
on track with what other states have been dealing with for a long
time,” Boggess said. “One thing is obvious to us, and that’s that
there’s an awful lot of public concern.”

Top priorities for the DNR are being able to test for the
disease and providing the public with information about it, he
said. Information about CWD can be found on the DNR website
(www.dnr.state.mn.us), and the 2002 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping
Regulations pamphlet has a special section pages 52-53 dedicated to
education about the disease. He said the department also will
disseminate several press releases and have CWD-related pamphlets
available.

A comprehensive CWD plan, developed primarily by DePerno, should
be available to the public within the next week, Boggess added.

While the University of Minnesota won’t be a certified testing
facility, scientists there still will be able test for the disease,
Boggess said. Should they uncover a CWD-positive sample, that
sample will need to be verified at a certified location. A USDA
official at the Denver symposium said 10 certified labs will be
able to conduct 230,000 tests annually. National labs will be able
to conduct another 50,000 tests.

CWD, first found in Colorado 30 years ago, now is present in the
border states of South Dakota and Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, 24 deer
have now tested positive for the disease, apparently centered in
the south-central part of the state. Officials there hope to kill
about 50,000 deer for testing during hunting seasons this fall.

Already, Wisconsin has begun killing and testing deer in the
370-square-mile “Eradication Zone” where CWD-positive deer have
been found in parts of Dane, Iowa, and Sauk counties.

In Minnesota, Boggess said officials hope increased CWD testing
capacity mostly through federal funds for the effort enables them
to test about 5,000 randomly selected hunter-harvested deer for
testing this fall.

They’ll also continue, as in the past, to test “as many sick
deer as we can get our hands on,” he said.

Officials say the spread of CWD in Wisconsin is enhanced by high
deer density there almost 100 animals per square mile in some parts
of the Eradication Zone where the disease is centered and where
state officials there are attempting to kill as many deer as
possible.

Minnesota will try to keep deer populations near goal with
aggressive harvest management, Boggess said. That’s difficult
considering the past mild winters have aided survival and promoted
high spring production of fawns.

“We thought in 1992 it was the highest number of antlerless
permits we’d ever issue,” Boggess said of the 322,000 issued that
year. “This year, though, we’ll issue even more than 1992.” More
than 360,000 will be available this year. And, he said, “intensive
harvest permits” which allow the taking of up to five deer in some
instances, will be available in about one-third of all permit
areas.

Boggess said these levels were set after the discovery of CWD in
Wisconsin. However, the early 1990s saw a change in paradigm, he
said, from one that’s careful not to overharvest, to one that’s
careful not to underharvest.

“We’re trying to manage in the middle,” he said. “We want to
have deer numbers for viewing and for hunting, but not so high that
there’s a problem with crop depredation, car/deer accidents, and
increased potential for disease.”

In the forested area of Minnesota, deer are managed at about 20
per square mile; in the ag zones, they’re managed at 3 to 5 per
square mile; and in the transition zone, there are typically
between 15 to 20 per square mile.

Chronic wasting disease attacks the brains of infected
whitetails and elk, killing the animal. There’s no evidence the
disease can be transferred to humans, though the government is
investigating the deaths of three men from Wisconsin and Minnesota
who knew one another and often enjoyed wild game feeds together.
All three died in the 1990s of brain diseases.

The disease has led to restrictions in many states regarding
imported deer and elk on game farms.

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