Elk from Minnesota tests CWD-positive

Associate Editor

St. Paul An elk traced from a Minnesota farm near Sauk Centre,
where a female elk in January tested positive for chronic wasting
disease, has tested positive for the fatal cervid disease in
Wisconsin, officials in both states confirmed Tuesday.

It’s the latest development as officials from the Minnesota
Board of Animal Health trace and test elk that had been in contact
with animals from the Stearns County farm operated by Jim Moscho.
Prior to the CWD-positive elk in Wisconsin this week, 15 others had
tested negative, said Malissa Fritz, communications coordinator for
the BAH in St. Paul.

“Those elk had been traced out from the Moscho farm from the
past five years,” she said. “Our concern is the animals that have
come from that farm; those are the ones we’re trying to find.”

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer
Protection officials said the elk belonged to Eugene Sperber, of
Valbers, Wis., in eastern Wisconsin’s Manitowoc County. The
six-year-old female elk was sampled after it was killed in a fight
with another elk. The remaining 180 elk on that farm have been
quarantined since Jan. 31.

In Minnesota, two farmed elk have tested positive for the
disease that attacks the nervous system of deer and elk. No wild
deer have tested positive for CWD. In Wisconsin, 80 wild deer have
tested positive in and around a 411-square-mile “eradication zone”
in the south-central portion of the state.

Chronic wasting disease, which was first found east of the
Mississippi River in Wisconsin in February of 2002, was discovered
in a Minnesota farmed elk last August. That bull elk, which died on
an Aitkin County farm owned by Clayton Lueck, was part of a BAH
surveillance program and was tested after its death. The discovery
led to the euthanization of 48 other animals on his farm; none
tested positive.

However, that bull had been on both the Stearns County farm, as
well as a Benton County farm owned by Duane Thene. Both herds were
quarantined and eventually killed and tested. Results were negative
on all 34 elk from the Thene farm; one of 21 animals tested
positive on the Moscho farm.

The BAH has been doing “trace-outs” from the Moscho farm since
that female elk tested positive two months ago.

“When we verify an animal came from that (Stearns County) herd,
we quarantine that herd until the animal is tested,” Fritz said.
“If the results are negative, the farm is removed from
quarantine.”

Fritz said trace-outs have taken officials to other states,
including Wisconsin. “We’re still in the beginning stages,” she
said. “Sometimes it’s a matter of tracing the animal from the
Moscho farm to another farm, and then on to yet another farm.”

There were no trace-outs from the Aitkin County farm, she said,
as no animals had left that property. All three herd owners in
Minnesota were enrolled in a voluntary registration and
surveillance program at the time their elk were tested for CWD.
Pending legislation in the state would make such enrollment a
requirement for all elk and deer farmers.

New rules for importing and exporting captive cervids, along
with the legislation, are prompting greater voluntary enrollment in
the program, Fritz said. Since the first CWD case was discovered
last August, an additional 35 farmers have come on board, she
said.

Also, under the terms of the legislation, all elk and deer farms
would come under the jurisdiction of the BAH. Currently, most deer
farms are regulated by the DNR. There are now about 230 farms under
the BAH’s voluntary surveillance program. The new legislation would
bring more than 770 farms into the fold.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, and Rep.
Howard Swenson, R-Nicollet, also would revise fencing requirements,
govern importation of deer and elk, and, most importantly for
hunters, prohibit importation of whole deer and elk carcasses. It
would also allow the DNR to restrict deer feeding if it deemed
necessary, and allow for the implementation of “emergency” measures
should CWD be found in the wild herd. The House version of the bill
has been referred to the House Ag Committee.

The DNR’s role especially the state’s conservation officers in
monitoring elk and deer farms would greatly diminish under the
legislation.

“They would not have any responsibility pertaining to
surveillance and registration of those captive animals,” Fritz
said. The BAH estimates it will cost an additional $600,000
annually for the surveillance program (see Outdoor Insights on Page
3 for more details).

DNR plans

Mike DonCarlos, DNR research manager, said the department is
developing plans for testing hunter-killed whitetails next
fall.

“The level will be greater than last year,” he said. And there
will be some overlap with areas tested last year, though the
department will seek to test in different deer management zones.
Those plans should be announced soon.

Until fall, the DNR will continue “target surveillance” of sick
animals that residents encounter. And, in the Stearns County area,
the department will conduct “opportunity testing” testing car-kills
and other deer found dead when possible.

This year, the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic
Laboratory tested 4,462 hunter-killed deer that were collected at
registration stations, along with 540 samples submitted at the
request of hunters who paid veterinarians to extract samples. No
positives were found.

DonCarlos said CWD-related activities this year would cost the
department about $1 million. The DNR is looking for contingency
state funding should CWD be found in the wild deer herd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *