MN: Former elk farm fence down, back up

Farmed cervid restrictions in Pine Island area continue

St. Paul – A portion of the fence around a former elk farm near
Pine Island where four of the animals tested positive for chronic
wasting disease was knocked down by slush and snow thrown by a
snowplow last weekend, according to a state Board of Animal Health
official.

The more than 500-animal herd was depopulated, but the fence
remains in place to keep wild deer out of the site. Less than a
month ago, the state’s first case of CWD in a wild whitetail was
found in a doe harvested three miles from the farm, now the site of
a planned bio-business development.

Bill Hartmann, state veterinarian for the BAH, said about 200 feet
of fence was knocked down, likely from Friday through Sunday. BAH
employees restored the section Sunday, he said.

“They didn’t see any deer tracks at all (in the area),” he
added.

The area of southeastern Minnesota north of Rochester has become
the state’s hotbed of disease-detection activity since the finding
in the wild deer. The state DNR is hoping to kill (mostly via
landowner permits) 900 deer in the area.

And the BAH has established a 10-mile radius “CWD-endemic area”
around where the sick deer was found.

According to a BAH press release from Jan. 21, “All captive deer
and elk herds (there are 12) within the CWD-endemic area will have
movement restrictions. Farms within this area must maintain their
animals in such a way that ensures commingling of farmed and wild
cervidae does not happen.”

Hartmann said that means one of two things for the cervid farmers
in the area, whose herds number from two to 100 and include both
deer and elk.

Cervid farmers may put up solid fences, he said. Or they may use
electric fence on either the inside or outside of the existing
fence, to effectively “double-fence” the area.

He said animals from the farms typically are moved as breeding
stock, as trophy stock, or to be processed.

If area producers have been following surveillance rules (a 2003
law requires mandatory registration and CWD surveillance programs
for farmed cervidae herds) and they meet new fencing rules, they
may be able to again move animals in 90 days, Hartmann said.

“We’re pretty confident (in the farmers’ level of surveillance),”
he said. “Most have had six years of surveillance, some maybe
10.”

Still, cervid farmers expect the CWD occurrence to hurt their
businesses, said Hartmann, following a public meeting in Pine
Island earlier this week.

One producer, he said, “expects it to have a big impact on his
farm.”

There are just under 600 farmed cervid producers in the state,
scattered about, Hartmann said, but with concentrations in the
southeast and northwest.

Since the elk farm was depopulated, there have been numerous
reports of wild deer entering the CWD-contaminated facility.
(Scientists say CWD prions can persist in the soil for several
years.)

About the time the CWD-positive deer was found, five wild deer were
reported inside the former elk farm – known locally to most now as
“Elk Run.”

Since then, BAH officials have met with the Elk Run owners, as well
as the Minnesota Department of Transportation, to “stress the
importance of keeping the gate shut,” Hartmann said. It’s believed
deer entered the fenced farm through a gate – not over or through
the fence itself.

There’s also an agreement in place that when construction (roadwork
and otherwise) begins at the Elk Run bio-park facility – a reported
2,300-acre, $1 billion development plan proposed by Tower
Investments, LLC – that the top two inches of topsoil be removed
and dumped in a secure, fenced area, Hartmann said.

It’s possible that plan will take effect this spring, when
DOT-contracted Shafer Contracting Co. could begin the Highway 52
Elk Run Interchange project. A public meeting on the matter was
scheduled for Wednesday (after Outdoor News press time).

According to a DOT press release, “design field activities have
already begun, including geotechnical work and tree removal.” The
release says major construction will begin this spring, and work
will continue through November 2012.

In an email response, Terry Ward, DOT project manager, confirmed
the interchange project would spur the topsoil removal
action.

“… this project is the one whereby our contractor is required to
strip the top two inches of topsoil in the CWD areas and move it
onto Tower property,” Ward wrote. “Tower will be responsible for
installation of temporary fencing to secure this material.”

Ward said the DOT worked with the city of Pine Island and Tower “to
greatly enhance the ability of our Design-Build proposing teams to
bring innovation to the project. We feel we more than mitigated any
potential additional CWD-related cost by the way we were able to
procure this project.”

He said the project was estimated to cost between $35 million and
$40 million. Shafer’s bid was for $34.3 million.

The DOT says the project will improve safety in that area of Hwy.
52, will increase traffic capacity, will provide access from
downtown Pine Island to the Elk Run development, and create
jobs.

Hartmann said the BAH will have officials monitoring the site when
construction commences.

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