Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Long before CWD discovered, concerns about Minnesota elk facility

Pine Island, Minn. – Just days after a 7-year-old elk at a
captive facility north of Rochester tested positive for chronic
wasting disease, DNR officials began to express concern about wild
deer entering and exiting the facility.

That was early in 2009.

The worry apparently never eased and reports indicate a deer was
within the fences of the Elk Run facility as recently as the night
before the DNR held a press conference to announce the discovery of
a CWD-infected wild deer.

While state officials say they can’t be sure where that deer was
infected, emails between them indicate a high degree of concern
about the former captive facility, which is along Highway 52 near
Pine Island and is now part of a biotech park Tower Investments is

The elk at that facility tested positive in January of 2009.

In February, DNR Enforcement officers identified 22 places in the
fence where deer potentially could enter the facility.

“Many are gates with wide gaps between the panels,” Don Nelson,
area wildlife supervisor in Rochester, wrote in a Feb. 10, 2009
email to other DNR staff. “In other places something has been
squeezing under the fence.”

Other emails sent several months later express concern about the
fence being left open as part of a sewer construction

“DNR, of course, remains concerned about previous documented
deficiencies in the perimeter fence, and we are very concerned
about the apparently deliberate opening of the perimeter fence for
construction purposes, prior to any agreement or plan for Elk Run
site decontamination and management,” Mike DonCarlos, the DNR
wildlife research manager at the time, wrote in a June 11, 2009,
email to Dr. Paul Anderson at the state Board of Animal

Since 2004, the board has been responsible for regulating deer and
elk farms in the state. The DNR in some instances had such
responsibility prior to that, but now becomes involved when captive
animals escape and have been on the loose for 24 hours.

According to emails, the board did not consider the fence breach
DonCarlos described to be a problem because the fence was only open
during the day, and locked and closed at night.

By December of 2009, the DNR remained concerned about deer within
the facility and, in a draft memo to the BAH, highlighted a couple
of examples.

“I am concerned that appropriate action is not being taken by Tower
Investments to maintain the fence at Elk Farm, LLC to eliminate
ingress of wild white-tailed deer and to destroy any deer that do
ingress, as required by the September, 2009 chronic wasting disease
herd plan for this facility,” according to the draft memo.
“Multiple reports of wild deer in the facility in recent months
lead me to conclude that the facility remains insecure and wild
deer are able to enter and exit this property. Because of the
environmental contamination issue, this facility remains a major
risk factor for wild deer in the area and DNR is compelled to take
action to protect the health of the wild deer population…

“We need to take this issue seriously and security of the facility
and removal of the animals found within the facility require more
diligence than they are currently receiving.”

BAH checked the fencing in January of 2010, and found some was
flimsy and under the 8-foot-height that’s required. There was no
evidence of deer going in or out, and the BAH inspector required
the fence be fixed.

Reports through early 2010 indicated various instances of deer in
the facility and fences down or gates open. In one instance, a
citizen reported what appeared to be two people trying to release
two wild deer that had gotten within the fences.

Concerns hadn’t subsided by late in the summer – despite board
officials informing the landowners that they needed to keep the
gates closed day and night – and DNR officials wondered how to
mandate compliance

In an Aug. 2, 2010 email, Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health
program coordinator, wrote, in part, “I’m unclear how many
‘warnings’ these guys get before there is serious discussion about
fines or breeches of contract.”

In October, a man and five others saw four deer within the fenced
area. The board again “addressed the problem of continuing
intrusions,” into the fenced area.

But deer apparently were inside the fences well after that time,

In an email on Jan. 24, 2011, to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and
State Veterinarian Bill Hartmann, the Minnesota Deer Hunters
Association’s Mark Johnson reported receiving from a person who saw
a doe within the fenced area on Jan. 20 – the day before the DNR
announced finding CWD in a wild deer.

In his email, Johnson wondered about increasing legal pressure
related to keeping deer out of the fenced area. He also said he
would be of assistance if legislative help were needed.

“… I am not interested in looking backwards,” Johnson wrote. “My
concern remains to the present and the future. The history simply
provides useful information to confirm that compliance by the Elk
Run facility appears to have been less than stellar and that no
leniency should be extended.”

In a Jan. 31, 2011 email, BAH Agricultural Specialist Carl
Denkinger reported inspecting the gates. He paid “special attention
to the gates being used on a continual basis and the subject of
concern over open access. I found that the gates had been altered
to prevent gaps and bottom openings.”


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