Hunters should support DNR efforts to squelch CWD

The DNR’s Erik Hildebrand (l) checks in with a 3A deer hunter during routine CWD testing and white-tailed deer registration on Nov. 5 in Houston, Minn.

News that chronic wasting disease has returned to wild deer frustrated southeast Minnesota deer hunters on Tuesday. The two 3A season bucks that tested positive came from within a mile of each other west of Lanesboro in Permit Area 348 – about 35 miles from where this blogger hunts deer.

The Minnesota DNR has been conducting extensive testing of deer in Zone 3 again this year at least partially because of CWD’s presence in bordering southwestern Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa. Those of us closely watching the disease’s spread expected it to erupt closer to Wisconsin, like in Houston or Winona counties. During a press conference on the outbreak Tuesday, Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s wildlife research manager, said the test that produced these two positives farther west in Fillmore County surprised his staff, too.

There are 4 domestic cervidae operations within 10 miles of these two positives, though there’s nothing linking those facilities to the outbreak, he said. The positives also fall roughly within the center of a triangle formed by a wild deer CWD zone in Allamakee County, Iowa, a domestic deer farm in Iowa with a high percentage of CWD positives, and Pine Island, Minn., where the DNR confirmed a deer tested positive for CWD in January 2011. All of those, however, are at least 40 miles from the area west of Lanesboro. Additional testing may or may not produce a connection or link to other outbreaks.

Readers know I’ve become completed enamored with antler-point restrictions thanks to some great adult buck activity we’re seeing via trail camera and from our stands this fall. APR has been an unqualified success, and I’ve secretly been dreading what could happen to this regulation if testing turned up CWD. In the management zone that the DNR establishes to contain the disease, all regulations are off, including APR. Research seems to show that in areas with CWD, adult bucks show some of the highest rates of infection, and infection always is fatal with this disease. Southeast Minnesota has a lot of adult bucks, and it’d be a shame to lose them to this disease just when APR has begun paying off. Both deer that tested positive were bucks – one a 3- or 4-year-old buck and the other likely a 21/2-year-old deer, Cornicelli said.

Let me make my stance clear: The DNR and Board of Animal Health should employ any means necessary as part of its CWD Response Plan to eradicate this disease from the landscape. That’s the position that top researchers into prions and other deer diseases always have maintained in my interviews with them, and until I hear convincing better arguments, my default always is the best science.

Extensive testing has occurred in this area as recently as two years ago, with no positives, so this would appear to be a recent outbreak. Lowering the size of the deer herd to decrease transmission rates has become an immediate priority, according to Cornicelli. Landowners in the area probably aren’t very excited to hear that a bonus winter deer season and sharpshooters are options to decrease the size of the herd, but I’d respectfully ask them and area hunters to cooperate with the agency’s efforts.

Wisconsin, which took its foot off the throat of containing CWD, has provided an example of how not to manage this disease. Granted, CWD already had spread across a massive geographical area when the DNR there discovered it, but the Walker administration has buried its head in the sand on this issue. The result is a disease with increasing infection rates in the endemic zone, which continues to grow west toward our state’s deer herd.

Minnesota, like it did with the Pine Island positive, should do better. Because the positives were so near to each other (killed by separate hunting parties), that provides some hope that perhaps this is a small outbreak. As much as I hate to see white-tailed deer dying simply to contain a disease, I believe in the Minnesota DNR’s approach on CWD management. I hope my fellow Zone 3 hunters feel the same.

Scroll shot of guy dragging deer

Inside image Caption: The DNR’s Erik Hildebrand (l) checks in with a 3A deer hunter during routine CWD testing and white-tailed deer registration on Nov. 5 in Houston, Minn.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, CWD, Rob Drieslein, Whitetail Deer

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