DNR proposal would ban feeding of deer

Conference downplays CWD health risks

By Shawn Perich

Field Editor

Grand Rapids, Minn. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has not been
found in Minnesota nor is there any evidence that the illness is
transmissible to humans were messages repeated by health and
wildlife experts at a day-long roundtable meeting in Grand Rapids
last Friday.

Concerns about CWD-related human health risks are mostly driven
by the media, said government officials speaking at the conference.
CWD has existed in wild deer and elk in Colorado and Wyoming for
more than 30 years, but researchers have found no evidence of the
disease being transmitted to humans, or other species such as
domestic cattle and wild pronghorn antelope.

At the conference, the Minnesota DNR announced proposals to ban
deer feeding, ban the importation of deer and elk carcasses into
the state, consolidate captive cervid authority under the Board of
Animal Health, and seek a $1 increase in the deer hunting license
to fund CWD-related work. All proposals require legislative
changes.

This year, the DNR received legislative approval to tap into
money earmarked for emergency deer feeding to fund CWD work. The
deer-feeding money is derived from a 50-cent surcharge on Minnesota
deer hunting licenses. The surcharge generates about $250,000
annually, and wildlife officials have budgeted expenditures of
about $400,000 this year. In addition, the CWD effort is draining
resources from other wildlife programs.

“Already we are reallocating staff time and our existing
resources toward CWD,” says Ed Boggess, of the DNR Wildlife
Division in St. Paul.

The proposed deer feeding ban mirrors a recent ban enacted in
Wisconsin, where CWD was discovered following the 2001 deer
season.

The Minnesota DNR has long opposed deer feeding for recreation
and emergency feeding during severe winters.

Consolidating captive cervid authority under the Board of Animal
Health (BAH) will likely be more effective than the present system,
where the authority is split between the BAH and the DNR. Minnesota
has somewhere between 600 and 1,000 captive deer and elk herds.

Most captive elk are registered with the BAH and 202 of 288
registered elk herds comply with voluntary CWD monitoring. Other
rule proposals for farmed cervids include a 96-inch standard for
fencing and mandatory ear tags for captive animals.

Nationwide, the media coverage of CWD has resulted in a windfall
of funding for researchers, state agencies, and cervid farmers.
Congress made a bipartisan effort to add $14 million for CWD to a
2002 agricultural appropriation. Although President Bush recently
vetoed a $5 billion emergency supplemental bill that contained $18
million for CWD, U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone told roundtable
participants that Congress needs to promptly fund efforts at CWD
prevention and control.

While officials urged hunters to take precautions to avoid
contact with the brain, spine, and lymph nodes when dressing,
processing, or cooking deer and elk, they pointed out that the
prions that cause CWD are not found in the meat. Dr. Gary Wolfe of
the CWD Alliance, a collective of conservation organizations, said
he has killed and eaten at least one elk annually from the
CWD-endemic area of Colorado for 15 years. He and his wife plan to
hunt there again this fall and fill their freezer.

“It is important for hunters to keep CWD in perspective,” Wolfe
said.

DNR proposal

The proposed ban on deer feeding would not extend to other
animals nor would it apply to agricultural practices such as salt
licks for cattle or leaving round bales in fields. But mineral
blocks and salt blocks intended for deer wouldn’t be allowed under
the proposal.

Mike DonCarlos, wildlife research manager for the DNR, said the
feeding ban makes sense because deer tend to get close and touch
noses over feed and salt blocks. “If CWD was present in the state,
artificial feeding would likely increase the risk of its spread,”
DonCarlos said.

Until the Legislature can address its proposals, the DNR is
urging hunters not to bring whole deer carcasses into the state
from other states this fall.

Many feed stores in Minnesota sell large quantities of deer
feed.

“During severe winters many tons a day will go out of here for
deer feeding,” said Brad Bunge, co-owner of the Carlton, Minn.,
Feed Mill, southwest of Duluth.

He said a statewide feeding ban “obviously would be an economic
loss” but he wasn’t sure how significant it would be.

The AP contributed to this story.

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