Extended Minnesota deer-feeding ban takes effect

St. Paul — The DNR as of Aug. 28 has banned recreational deer feeding in 11 counties in central and north-central Minnesota that surround two farms where captive deer have been found to have chronic wasting disease. In addition, deer feeding has been banned since late last year in Fillmore, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, and Winona counties, the result of multiple wild deer testing positive for CWD.

The bans in central and north-central Minnesota apply to Aitkin, Crow Wing, Cass (south of Minnesota highways 34 and 200), Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Mille Lacs (north of County Road 11), Morrison, Renville (north of U.S. Highway 212), Stearns, and Wright counties. Wild deer with the disease haven’t been detected in those counties.

“We have the clear legal authority to ban (recreational feeding) in the case of wildlife disease,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “We’re doing this because we want to protect the state’s deer herd.”

The DNR’s Enforcement Division has been involved in the formulation of the ban and will be enforcing it, said Rodmen Smith, the division’s director.

“We try to do a lot of outreach – telling people what the regulations are and educating them,” he said. “We do what we can to make sure people understand why it’s being done. For the most part, we have very good compliance. We’ll move forward with outreach and education and law enforcement, if necessary.”

According to the DNR, the feeding bans are in effect for wide areas because the agency doesn’t know the extent of a possible infection and because feed concentrates deer and allows for nose-to-nose contact, which is one of the likeliest mechanisms for spreading CWD among wild deer.

The DNR’s web page on deer feeding says, “Feed is defined as salt, minerals, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, hay, and other food that is capable of attracting or enticing deer.” In addition to those items, attractants such as bottled estrus, mock scrape drips, deer urine, blood, gland oil, feces, and other bodily fluids also are banned in the five southeastern counties.

The inclusion of the latter products in the southeast is simply an effort to reduce as much as possible the risk of CWD spread, Cornicelli said.

“We’re being really conservative with this kind of stuff and banning those attractants along with the food products,” he said.

The feeding ban in the southeast runs through June 27, 2018. It runs through Feb. 28, 2019 in the central and north-central counties. Both could be extended beyond those dates.

While the bans impact people who enjoy feeding deer, neither Cornicelli nor Smith expects problems. Following the discovery of CWD in a wild deer around Pine Island several years ago, the agency announced a feeding ban would be instituted. Officials flew around the area to determine the number of deer, while at the same time counting the number of places where recreational feeding was occurring (it was still legal at the time of the flights).

“When the rule went into effect, conservation officers went knocking on doors to tell people they couldn’t feed anymore,” Cornicelli said. “There had been 39 people feeding, and all but one of them already had picked up all their feed.”

CWD testing

In addition to the feeding bans, the DNR also will require mandatory CWD testing in some permit areas this fall. In the following permit areas, all hunters who kill a deer Nov. 4 or Nov. 5 (opening weekend of the firearms season) must bring their harvested deer to a sampling station and have it tested: 218, 219, 229, 277, 283, and 285 in central Minnesota; 155, 171, 172, 242, 246, 247, 248, and 249 in north-central Minnesota; and 343, 345, 346, 347, 348, and 349 in southeastern Minnesota.

The agency wants to test 3,600 samples from the north-central permit areas; 1,800 from the central permit areas; and 1,800 from the southeastern permit areas. The goal of the mandatory surveillance is to detect the disease early, if in fact it exists in wild deer.

“Without precautionary testing, early detection would not be possible,” Cornicelli said. “Without early detection, there’s nothing to stop CWD from becoming established at a relatively high prevalence and across a large geographic area. At that point, there is no known way to control it.”

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