DNR’s chronic wasting disease meeting draws large audience
By Bob Drieslein
Preston, Minn. — An impressive crowd turned out the evening of Thursday, Dec. 15, for an informational meeting regarding chronic wasting disease, hosted by the Minnesota DNR. It was held at Fillmore Central School in Preston.
School staff had to scramble to provide enough folding chairs for the more than 700 people who attended, all with an interest in white-tailed deer in southeastern Minnesota. They came to learn more about how CWD might affect deer and deer hunting in the future.
Several DNR and Minnesota Department of Health staffers, including Jim Leach, DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife director, made presentations and were available later to respond during a question-and-answer session.
Dr. Michelle Carstensen, DNR Wildlife Health Program supervisor, offered an overview of CWD, including a description of the disease and its history in Minnesota. She explained that CWD is a brain disease that affects members of the deer family, and it has been found in cervids other than whitetails, including mule deer, elk, moose, and caribou.
Carstensen added that bucks are three times more likely to have the disease than does, and she mentioned that, “There is no known cure for CWD – the disease is always fatal.”
Carstensen described the DNR’s CWD surveillance efforts in 2016 and the subsequent discovery of two bucks that tested positive for CWD in Permit Area 348, west of Lanesboro.
Tim Marien, a wildlife biologist in the Wildlife Health Section of the Wisconsin DNR, reviewed the history of CWD in the Badger State, where it first was discovered in 2002 in the southern part of the state. Since then, Wisconsin has tested 195,000 deer for CWD, and 3,000 have tested positive. Marien said that in some of the core CWD areas, 45 percent of the larger bucks are infected with the disease.
Marien concluded his presentation by saying, “It is probably unrealistic to think we can eradicate the disease in Wisconsin. Our effort will be to try to contain CWD in the core area(s) and prevent its further spread.”
Dr. Lou Cornicelli, Wildlife research manager for the DNR, described how the agency plans to respond to the finding of two CWD-positive deer killed by hunters near Lanesboro. Key components of the agency’s response plan are:
• Establishment of a new CWD management zone, roughly 370 square miles in size and to be known as Deer Permit Area 603;
• An aerial helicopter survey of deer in Permit Area 603, which started this week;
• A ban on recreational deer feeding to go into effect later this month in Fillmore, Mower, Olmsted, Houston, and Winona counties;
• A special deer hunt: Dec. 31 to Jan. 15. Cornicelli described the hunt and referenced an information sheet distributed at the meeting;
• Landowner shooting permits – working with landowners individually for permission to obtain samples.
• Mandatory CWD testing and carcass export restrictions;
• A U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooting contract, only if necessary.
The DNR hopes to sample 900 adult deer over 11⁄2 years of age and reduce the deer population in the CWD Management Zone by 20 to 25 percent.
Following the formal presentations, organizers collected and responded to hand-written questions from the audience. Questions responded to at the meeting included:
Q: Will antler point restrictions be eliminated in Zone 3?
DNR: No. APR will remain in effect outside the CWD management zone.
Q: Are food plots considered baiting or feeding?
Q: Does the DNR know how CWD got started in Minnesota?
A: No, and we may never know.
Q: What about scavengers, such as crows, eagles, and coyotes feeding on infected carcasses. Can they contract CWD?
DNR: No, but it’s possible their feeding activity could spread the disease.
Q: Can the public get results from aerial surveys being done by the DNR?
DNR: These results will be posted on the DNR’s website (mndnr.gov) as soon as the data have been compiled.
After the meeting, Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, told Outdoor News, “The DNR is being proactive in dealing with the CWD issue, and there are no easy answers.”