In Minnesota, southeast deer study set for kickoff

St. Paul — The DNR in coming weeks is set to embark upon a study in the southeastern part of the state that officials hope will provide insight into deer movement on the landscape.

But the desire to learn about those patterns is far from simply academic; officials hope it will give them a better chance to disrupt or stop the movement of chronic wasting disease, which to date has been confirmed in 17 wild deer in Fillmore County.

The plan is to capture 115 deer as early as mid-February and fit them with GPS collars that allow researchers to track their movement. The animals will come from areas around Deer Permit Area 603, which is where CWD has been discovered and the DNR is working to reduce deer numbers and better understand the disease’s prevalence.

“Once we actually start getting data from these animals, it will provide information on the movement corridors on the landscape in southeastern Minnesota,” said Chris Jennelle, a research scientist with the DNR’s wildlife health program. “Our hope is it is going to be able to focus our efforts on where CWD might be spreading across the landscape. It will help us focus our management and perhaps surveillance so we can be more efficient in targeting those efforts.”

Since 2016, all of the wild deer infected with CWD have come from within the management zone in Fillmore County.

The DNR is using a grant from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to conduct the study. The plan is to capture and collar 60 juvenile males, 30 juvenile females, and 25 adult males. Between April 1 and June 30, the collars on the juvenile deer will transmit location data 12 times per day.

“We’re expecting that (time period) to be a higher likelihood of them making longer movements,” Jennelle said. “That covers the major dispersal period when juveniles will disperse from their natal range to their adult range.”

From Sept. 1 through Nov. 30, researchers will collect location data 12 times per day from juvenile males. They’ll collect locations 12 times per day from adult males from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, and from juvenile females from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. For the remainder of the year for all animals they will collect six locations per day.

“Juvenile deer, especially males, disperse long distances,” Jennelle said. “They are, at first glance, a very high-risk group for CWD transmission on the landscape. That’s why we are putting most of our collars on juvenile males. We really want to know how far they’re moving because they’re really the age and sex class that’s potentially moving CWD.

“But adult males have the highest probability of having CWD, so that’s why we want to collar 25 of them,” he said.

Female deer tend not to disperse to the same extent males do.

The vast majority of the land in and around DPA 603 is privately owned, so the DNR hopes landowners will allow capture and research crews to access their land. In exchange for their cooperation, the DNR will provide landowners with updates on how deer are moving through their properties.

“We have been working on getting as much permission as we can from private landowners, but we still need more,” Jennelle said. “We have gaps.”

Landowners who are willing to help – within DPA 603 or outside of it – may contact the DNR at (507) 380-1858.

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