No special deer season slated for the northwest

Bemidji, Minn. – Efforts of local landowners, federal
sharpshooters, and contracted marksmen who shot deer from a
helicopter have taken enough deer that the state officials have
called off a possible four-day special deer season for northwestern
Minnesota this spring.

The deer-thinning effort is being conducted in a portion of
Minnesota where bovine tuberculosis has been found in cattle herds,
as well as free-roaming whitetails.

Paul Telander, DNR regional wildlife manager in Bemidji, said
the combined efforts had resulted in the killing of 908 deer since
efforts to reduce deer numbers began a couple months ago. The
agency had contemplated allowing deer hunters to aid in the effort
during a short spring season, but the need for that has been
averted. Of those, eight have tested “suspect” for bovine TB. No
final results have been made available.

The helicopter effort, Telander said, “proved to be effective.”
The effort took place on public land and on private land where the
agency was granted permission.

Contracting the shooters and the aircraft came with a price tag
of about $90,000, according to Mike DonCarlos, DNR wildlife and
research policy manager in St. Paul. It’s possible some of the
costs of deer herd reduction – an effort to minimize or eliminate
the disease in northwestern Minnesota – could be borne by federal
aid, though DonCarlos said none has yet been made available. Gov.
Tim Pawlenty announced earlier in the month that USDA funding had
been made available to depopulate cattle herds in the area.

DonCarlos said sharpshooting efforts by the USDA Wildlife
Services will continue, and landowners and tenants in the area will
be allowed to continue to kill deer in the core TB area, likely to
some degree until the fall hunting seasons begin.

Some background: According to the DNR’s website, since 2005,
bovine tuberculosis has been discovered in 11 cattle herds in
northwestern Minnesota. Since then, the DNR has conducted testing
of hunter-harvested deer within a 15-mile radius of infected
farms.

Next, the DNR banned feeding in a 4,000-square-mile area of
northwestern Minnesota, “as a preventative measure to minimize
disease transmission.”

A bovine TB zone was established, including a 140-square miles
“core” area. That’s where USDA Wildlife Services began
sharp-shooting efforts in February 2007. About 500 deer were
killed.

The fall hunting season was expanded in a new zone, DPA 101; it
included an October firearms season for antlerless deer, and a
special January 16-day hunt.

Telander said that prior to sharp-shooting efforts this winter,
an aerial survey was conducted, and between 650 and 950 deer were
estimated to be roaming in the core area.

Sharpshooters proceeded to kill 398 deer, aerial shooters took
another 416, and landowners/tenants have taken another 94 – a total
of 908. Further, DonCarlos said three elk have been tested (results
pending) for TB, inside the TB core area. One of the elk was killed
by a landowner, one was found dead, and the other was a road-kill
victim, he said.

The “landowner-tenant” zone comprises a 934-square-mile area in
portions of Beltrami, Marshall, Roseau, and Lake of the Woods
counties. In that area, landowners are allowed to shoot deer,
without a permit, but must report the kills (and other information)
to the DNR. Information is available at mndnr.gov/bovinetb.

The spring herd-reduction effort would’ve been a first for the
department, Telander believes. The DNR has, however, allowed
shooting by permit for landowners experiencing crop damage from
deer, outside the regular hunting seasons.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced last
week that the USDA would downgrade Minnesota’s bovine TB status
from “Modified Accredited Advanced,” to “Modified Accredited.”

Joe Martin, state bovine TB coordinator, said the downgrade was
expected. In response, the BAH said state officials would apply to
the USDA for “split state” status, allowing the majority of the
state to upgrade its status.

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