MN: DNR turns the corner in fight against bovine TB

Wannaska, Minn. – After killing 2,613 deer in the
164-square-mile core of the bovine tuberculosis area in northwest
Minnesota during the past four years, it’s unlikely that federal
sharpshooters will be called in for a fifth time.

Last winter, sharpshooters took 450 deer from the core area, and
none of them tested positive for bovine TB. And none of the 1,618
deer that hunters killed in the area this fall had obvious signs of
the disease.

It’s the beginning of what DNR officials hope is a monitoring
effort for TB that includes only hunter-harvested deer during
regular seasons.

“There’s no doubt that (sharpshooting) was effective,” said
Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program coordinator. “It’s
a really useful tool for going in and removing a large number of
deer from a very small area. But it’s also expensive and unpopular,
so there are trade-offs.”

Since TB was discovered in wild deer in 2005, the DNR has
sampled for disease 6,934 hunter-harvested deer from the area. All
of the 2,613 deer that sharpshooters have taken from the ground and
the air also have been tested.

To date, 27 wild deer have tested positive. All have been within
a 10-mile radius of the town of Skime.

As it’s done since 2007, the DNR will conduct an aerial survey
of the core bovine TB area during the early part of next year. The
estimated population there in 2007 was 935 deer; last year’s
estimate was 422 deer.

Based on previous counts, Carstensen expects this winter’s
survey to show about 300 deer.

“That’s pretty good to see the declining trend there,” she
said.

In a press release, Carstensen said: “Reducing the deer
population in the area was a necessary part of our disease
eradication strategy. That strategy has resulted in fewer deer
testing positive for the disease each year, but hunters have been
understandably frustrated because there are fewer deer to
harvest.”

Without sharpshooting, or the special January season that’s also
been held in the core area, deer will have a better chance to
survive the winter and be available to hunters next fall, she
said.

None of the samples from deer that hunters harvested this fall
had obvious signs of TB, but all are being tested in a laboratory
setting. Final results are expected late next spring.

If one of those were to test positive, the possibility exists
that sharpshooters could be called in to get additional samples.
Or, there could be intensive removal efforts in the area next
year.

“A lot would depend on how many positives there were, and where
they were,” Carstensen said.

She’s optimistic that situation won’t arise, though.

New study

The DNR and the University of Minnesota are partnering on a
pilot study of deer just outside of Permit Area 101, in the Grygla
area. It has similar habitat to that in the core TB area,
Carstensen said.

As part of the pilot project, 18 deer – six bucks and 12 does –
will be fitted with satellite collars next month.

Categories: Hunting News

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