MN DNR to test for CWD again this fall

St. Paul — After a one-year hiatus, the DNR plans to conduct chronic wasting disease surveillance of white-tailed deer in the southeastern part of the state this fall.

The agency has sampled deer from that part of the state in six of the past seven years.

Part of the reason for this fall’s round of testing is that southeastern Minnesota is the place from which the state’s lone CWD-positive animal was discovered. (A bowhunter killed the animal in late 2010.) But it’s also in response to the CWD that’s present in deer in Iowa’s Allamakee County, which shares a border with Minnesota, and to the ongoing threat posed by CWD-infected deer in Wisconsin.

The DNR’s goal is to test a total of 3,600 deer from the 300 series of permit areas. Some of those deer, officials hope, will come from around the Pine Island area, from where the positive wild animal came.

“It would be nice to go back into that area and make sure nothing festered there,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program leader. “Even though we feel good about the three years of negative (tests), you just never know. It’s prudent to check that while we’re there anyway.”

Yet it’s the situation in Wisconsin, where CWD prevalence continues to rise, that’s the real concern. The disease has been spreading outside of the state’s endemic area, and wildlife officials say Wisconsin is the most likely source of the CWD-infected deer found in Iowa.

“In my mind, it’s going to be something that as the spread continues, it’s going to reach into our state,” Carstensen said, noting that the 300 series of deer permit areas in Minnesota are particularly at risk due to their proximity to the border. “If it’s going to come here and we can get it early, we have the best chance to succeed in minimizing the impact.”

DNR staffers will work check stations throughout the southeast during the opening weekend of this fall’s firearms deer season. Hunters in those areas will be unable to register their animals via the Internet or on the phone during that time. 

In addition to working check stations, Carstensen and her staff also are exploring additional methods for collecting samples.

Management and CWD

Adam Murkowski, the DNR’s big-game program leader since January, is no stranger to CWD, having worked in part on Wisconsin’s deer program prior to coming to Minnesota.

“It keeps me up at night,” he said of the possibility of CWD coming into Minnesota from Iowa or Wisconsin.

Yet he believes the state has a good plan when it comes to monitoring deer herd health, and says there’s no reason to believe CWD is established in Minnesota’s deer herd.

Still, he worries about how the disease could affect Minnesota’s deer, especially if it was widespread.

“It would profoundly affect the management of deer,” he said. “And it would put us in a position where we would have to evaluate our current strategies and how those need to be altered in order to protect the entirety of the state’s deer herd.”

Wisconsin’s plan

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker last week attended that state’s Conservation Congress annual meeting and discussed updates to the state’s CWD plan.

According to a press release from Walker’s office, the plan will be updated in a variety of ways, including:

• Seeking input from hunters, landowners, farmers, and foresters in every county using county deer advisory councils.

• Directing the DNR to conduct a comprehensive study of deer population dynamics.

• Creating “best management practices” for the deer farm industry.

• Conducting more frequent fence inspections.

• Developing quicker test results for hunters.

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