In CWD testing, final tally is two positives
St. Paul — DNR officials are breathing a small sigh of relief after all remaining samples from the firearms deer season in Zone 3 came back negative for chronic wasting disease.
Still, two of the 2,866 samples collected during the firearms season came back positive for CWD, which means the agency will begin an aggressive effort to eliminate the disease. The two deer that tested positive both were males and were killed about a mile apart by hunters in Permit Area 348 near Lanesboro.
The DNR has meat from both deer and will conduct tests to see if the animals can be genetically linked to areas where the disease previously has been discovered, but it’s entirely possible its origin will remain a mystery.
“We’ll look as much as we can, but we may never know,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager.
He did note there are four cervid farms within 10 miles of the positive animals, but said all four are up to date on their surveillance. There’s “no reason” to think the disease resulted from an escaped cervid, Cornicelli said.
In the meantime, the DNR is still collecting samples for testing from archery and muzzleloader hunters via head boxes in Chatfield, Harmony, Lanesboro, and Preston. The muzzleloader hunt continues through Dec. 11, while the archery season continues through the end of the year.
“This is a continuation of the voluntary testing opportunities we provided hunters in Zone 3 during the regular firearms season,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor. “Now that we found the disease, we believe it’s even more important to offer hunters the opportunity to have their deer tested in the area surrounding the two infected deer. These head boxes will remain available to hunters through the end of archery season.”
The DNR currently is working to draft a rule to ban recreational deer feeding in Fillmore County and surrounding counties. It also will create a new CWD management zone.
“The goal of our disease-management efforts will be to eliminate CWD,” Carstensen said. “The actions necessary to achieve this goal are focused on reducing the risk of disease transmission among deer in the affected area. The primary tools available to reduce these risks are to eliminate recreational feeding activities, which bring deer into close concentration and enhance disease spread, and to reduce overall deer numbers.
“We are not planning to eliminate deer in the CWD zone. It’s not a goal … (and) not possible, either,” she added.
As soon as there is enough snow on the ground, the agency will conduct an aerial survey so it has a better understanding of deer numbers and their distribution within the CWD management zone. A special late-season hunt will be held in January, after which landowners will be given shooting permits. The use of federal sharpshooters is a possibility, but it’s an option DNR officials hope to avoid.
“We hope to avoid the need for this action if significant numbers of deer can be taken by hunters and landowners,” Carstensen said.
Given the fact there’s limited public land in the area, the agency will rely on cooperation from hunters and landowners.
“Our efforts to move this plan forward are hinged on the cooperation and participation of the hunters and landowners in this community,” Carstensen said. “With limited public land available in the area where the disease was detected, access to deer hunting and/or removal efforts will be entirely at the discretion of the owners of the land the deer inhabit. The DNR will not access private land without permission. Thus, to achieve our goal of disease elimination and the return of a healthy and productive deer population in Fillmore County, we need to partner with local landowners and hunters for any hope of success.”
Head box locations
Archery and muzzleloader hunters who wish to have their deer tested for CWD can drop off the animals’ heads in boxes at the following locations:
• Preston Forestry office, 912 Houston St., Preston
• Lanesboro Fisheries office, 23785 Grosbeak Rd., Lanesboro
• Magnum Sports, 20 Main St S., Chatfield
• Oak Meadow Meats, 50 9th St., Harmony