Sharpshooters set to get to work in Fillmore County’s CWD area

St. Paul — The next phase in the battle against chronic wasting disease in southeastern Minnesota’s Fillmore County has commenced.

U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services sharpshooters spent this week preparing to begin targeting deer in relatively small areas around where a total of eight animals have tested positive since last fall. They’ll begin removal operations next week.

“We’re trying to stamp out a disease in a localized area,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “That’s the goal.”

Of the eight positive animals, three were killed during the regular hunting season in 2016. Another three were killed during the special hunt in Permit Area 603. One was killed under a landowner permit, while another was found dead. Officials couldn’t determine a cause of death of that animal.

Seven of the positive animals came from about a 5-square-mile area, while another was several miles to the north.

Through last weekend, a total of 928 deer had been tested for CWD. Results on 69 of those animals are pending. Hunters killed 873 deer (626 were adults and therefore tested) during the special hunt that concluded Jan. 15. Landowners added another 270 samples. The DNR issued a total of 411 landowner shooting permits, according to Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor. Of those, 32 percent – or 133 people – shot at least one deer. The DNR collected 21 samples from road-killed animals, nine from animals that were found dead, and two that were sick or injured and euthanized.

Given that seven of the eight positives were relatively close to one another – and that they didn’t exhibit outward signs of having CWD – “points to a cluster – some sort of point-source infection that happened not too long ago,” Cornicelli said.

The animal found outside that cluster was a mature male that officials believe could simply have walked north.

“We’re not seeing anything to suggest it’s more than a movement, but we don’t know for sure,” he said. “But it’s certainly not looking like there’s a second cluster (of infection) up there.”

Sharpshooters will remove some deer from around the area where the single animal tested positive, but they’ll spend most of their time in the area from where the seven positive deer came. The DNR has a $290,000 contract with Wildlife Services, though Cornicelli expects the operation to cost perhaps two-thirds that amount.

Sharpshooters will focus on an area of deer habitat that’s about 5 miles by 5 miles.

“It’s certainly not the 500-square-mile area that we had for the landowner shooting permits,” Cornicelli said. “That was designed to help us figure out what we were dealing with.”

Sharpshooters, who have been working with landowners and putting out bait piles this week, generally shoot at night. All deer are field-dressed and kept in refrigerated trailers. Animals that test negative are given to people who want them. The DNR has a list of about 200 people who are interested in receiving venison, Cornicelli said.

Deer farm update

In the past 45 days or so, captive deer at two farms (two animals from one farm in Crow Wing County and one animal from a farm in Meeker County) have tested positive for CWD. The positive animal at the Meeker County farm was born at the Crow Wing County farm.

Two other farms – one in Crow Wing County and another in St. Louis County – also received deer from the original Crow Wing County farm. Five deer at those two farms will be euthanized this week and tested for the disease, according to Dr. Paul Anderson, assistant director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

A farm in Stearns County received a mule deer from the original Crow Wing County farm, “but we do not have an agreement to euthanize those animals,” Anderson said.

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