Sharpshooting complete, CWD deer count at 11

Lanesboro, Minn. — The Minnesota DNR’s contracted sharpshooting of deer, attempting to root out chronic wasting disease in Fillmore County, has concluded and test results have all come back.

During the sharpshooting phase, carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, there were two deer that tested positive for the disease out of 238 samples sent off for testing.

That brings the total number of CWD-positive whitetails to 11 since the DNR first announced a pair of positives from the firearms season in November.

All but one of those positives were in a cluster that was about four miles west of Lanesboro.

“I would have been happier if we had found five instead of 11,” said Lou Cornicelli, the Minnesota DNR’s wildlife research manager. “But is the infection rate higher than we thought it was? Probably not. The fact that we didn’t find positives outside of the core is really encouraging. I certainly would have liked to find fewer deer, but I’m glad we didn’t find them spread across the landscape.”

When the DNR first announced the discovery of two positives from the hunting season in November, they were the first incidents of wild deer to test positive for the fatal disease since the only other case about 50 miles to the north in 2010. The discovery kicked the state’s CWD management plan into action and led to several phases.

Cornicelli believes the disease hasn’t been on the landscape long, and that such an effort was worth doing at this point. The hope is to avoid what has happened in most other places the disease has been found: It has spread across the landscape. Recent research has suggested that the disease, caused by a prion similar to mad cow disease, can lead to significant declines in the deer population.

In neighboring Wisconsin, the disease has spread to several areas of the state and wildlife managers believe it had possibly been on the landscape for 20 years before it was discovered in 2002.

This year, the initial Minnesota CWD-positives were picked up during a surveillance effort to monitor for the disease in the southeast, across the border from two states – Wisconsin and Iowa – where CWD has been found

That initial testing here involved 10 deer permit areas (339, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, and 349). Out of 2,966 samples tested, three (including those original two announced at the outset) tested positive.

Meanwhile, the DNR conducted an aerial survey from Dec. 14-21 to get a better handle on how many deer there actually were in the area, as well as where deer were congregated and where they would be most likely to congregate. That survey estimated that there were 11,600 deer in the area, which included the disease management zone and an area to the north near Bucksnort, where one of the first five positives were discovered.

That isolated deer, an adult buck, turned out to be on the only positive away from the focal area.

“It’s possible he walked up from Preston,”Cornicelli said, adding that the deer was taken during the hunting season and likely in the rut phase when it was killed. It was reported later as part of a batch of samples submitted by local taxidermists.

The DNR went on to set up a special hunt zone (603). That 16-day hunt was launched Dec. 31 and ended Jan. 15, turning up three more positives for the disease among 626 tests.

The day after the special hunt concluded, the department began issuing landowner shooting permits, which expired Feb. 12. During that phase, two more tested positive among 269 total samples. “Lo and behold, we continued to find more positives on the same pin prick,” Cornicelli said.

Following that, the DNR decided to go ahead with a sharpshooting phase.

“When we moved to this phase, we really were going to focus on that smaller area,” Cornicelli said. “We didn’t focus our efforts randomly on the landscape. We made strategic decisions on where to focus.”

Cornicelli said, with the effort just having wrapped up, he planned on reassembling the staff in the next week or two to come up with the strategy for the area for next fall.

Then he plans on holding a follow-up meeting with the public in Preston by the end of April.

Categories: CWD, Whitetail Deer

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