Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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BAH wraps up farmed elk CWD investigation

Associate Editor

St. Paul The Minnesota Board of Animal Health this week
announced the completion of its investigation into chronic wasting
disease in farmed elk in the state. Two farmed elk have tested
positive for the fatal nervous system disease in deer and elk.

The investigation included 12 month of tracing and testing, the
BAH said in a news release earlier this week. During the course of
the investigation, 332 elk were euthanized for testing in
Minnesota; another 77 were euthanized or quarantined in eight other
states.

CWD was first identified in farmed elk in August, 2002, on a
farm in Aitkin County. The 5-year-old bull elk that died on that
farm was traced to a farm near Sauk Centre. A euthanized 3-year-old
elk cow from that herd also tested positive for the disease. From
there, BAH officials “traced out” animals that had moved from that
Sauk Centre farm. Eventually, another animal that had been on that
farm, but sold, tested positive for CWD in Wisconsin.

“We looked for all the animals that were considered to be
exposed, or thought to potentially be exposed (to the CWD-positive
animals),” said Dr. Paul Anderson, assistant director for the BAH.
The investigation was considered complete when all animals that had
been exposed to the two Minnesota farms had been traced out and
tested negative. Anderson said animals in contact with the
Wisconsin farm also had been traced, and dead ends had been reached
in the form of no more “positives.”

Anderson said there was virtually no movement of animals from
the farm owned by Clayton Lueck in Aitkin County. However, Anderson
said the Jim Moscho farm in Stearns County was “an active farm,
with many animals moved,” making the investigation complex. BAH
officials traced animal movement from that farm back five
years.

The process involved 51 Minnesota elk herds and 28 herds in
other states, including Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa, North
Dakota, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, and Oklahoma.

Cervid farmers were compensated for those animals that were
destroyed. Only four farms in Minnesota required euthanization of
the entire herd the Moscho and Lueck herds, and herds in the Sauk
Rapids and Melrose areas where CWD-positive animals were believed
to have spent time. The Lueck farm remains under quarantine for
five years; the Moscho farm for one year.

Those farms with traced-out animals were required to euthanize
only those traced elk; the remaining herd remained intact if test
results were negative.

According to the BAH, the source of the infection was not
determined, but the three CWD-infected elk did have a connection:
all three were housed on the Sauk Centre farm during the summer of
2000. Clinical histories for the elk strongly suggest that exposure
may have occurred during this period. The timing from exposure to
development of clinical symptoms in all three of the animals is
consistent with a normal incubation period for CWD in elk, which is
between 16 to 34 months, Anderson said.

Several agencies contributed to the effort, according to
Anderson, including BAH officials, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, and the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic
Laboratory. He also credited Minnesota elk producers for
contributing to the speed and accuracy of the investigation.

Other implications of the CWD discovery

The discovery of the disease led to the testing of nearly 5,000
hunter-killed whitetails last year, and the DNR plans to test
another 13,000 during the 2003 hunt. The CWD-positive elk in the
state also resulted in broad-ranging legislation that affects both
hunters and elk and deer farmers.

For farmed cervidae owners, the legislation mandated
registration and reporting of farmed herds, tagging of cervidae,
and perimeter fencing requirements. Further, the law directed that
all farmed cervidae operations be regulated by the BAH; in the
past, several were regulated by the state DNR.

Anderson said the “big pieces” of the law take effect Jan. 1,
2004. Currently, BAH officials are visiting all cervidae farms in
the state which include mostly elk and deer, but also red deer,
sika deer and others to inspect the farms and explain new laws to
the operators. There will be about 900 cervidae farms monitored by
the BAH when all are registered, Anderson said. He said the goal is
to visit all the state’s farms by Christmas.

Anderson said the CWD investigation, while slowing the market
for farmed cervidae products in Minnesota, hasn’t forced farmers
from the industry.

“My sense is, the number of farms is fairly stable,” he said.
“The hope is, now that the investigation is done, trade channels
with other states and countries will open up again. The cervidae
industry seems to be fairly healthy.”

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