Will persisting chronic wasting disease end APR in southeast Minnesota?
A prediction from Rob Drieslein: Southeast Minnesota firearms white-tailed deer hunters just completed their last season with antler-point restrictions. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect APR won’t be around much longer in my corner of the state.
In a lengthy press release on Friday afternoon, the Minnesota DNR said it intends to intensify chronic wasting disease response efforts in the southeast. Per the report here, the DNR says it will open two special hunts in December, provide shooting permits to landowners, conduct deer-culling efforts in January, and hold a public meeting in Preston on Dec. 18.
After years of debate, including steadfast support from this scribe, APR became a reality in Zone 3 in 2010. In early November 2016, I wrote a giddy column about how APR had improved the quality of the deer herd in the southeast. No one argued with me, and I know people even on the fringes of Zone 3 who tell me they’re seeing bigger bucks as a result of the four-points-or-better rule.
A couple of weeks after I wrote that column, routine testing identified CWD in the region’s wild deer. Talk about a buzz kill! Since then, there have been 28 detected cases of the neurological disease within the CWD disease management zone, including those from this fall.
All of the new 2018 detections are adult males, and two of those positives were bucks found outside the designated CWD Disease Management Zone 603 in Fillmore County.
Friday’s DNR release notes: “…males are much more likely to have CWD than females; male deer also move the disease farther on the landscape because they typically travel longer distances, especially in the fall.”
Bottom line, the science and data seem to be suggesting that hard-running big bucks, which are charging around the landscape, checking scrape lines, eating a lot, and interacting with other deer, probably spread CWD faster than does and younger deer. The logical conclusion? A regulation that protects those big deer probably isn’t compatible in an area battling a CWD outbreak.
On Friday, the DNR sent a survey to 5,000 people who hunt either Permit Area 603 or elsewhere in Zone 3. The first question under “Part V. Deer Populations & Management Strategies in Southeastern Minnesota” asks respondents to rate how they feel about the following: “Eliminate the 4-point to one side antler point restriction.”
Read between the lines, and it’s pretty clear that the DNR is preparing for a tough conversation about APR. I asked Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s wildlife research manager, on Friday if ending APR was on the table, and he didn’t mince words.
“Yes, we’re sending out a hunter survey, scoping all sorts of stuff, including APR,” he said. “Looking at the tea leaves the way these adult males spread disease, and unfortunately this is something we have to evaluate.”
APR would not have happened in the southeast without Cornicelli, so it’s a difficult alternative for him, the DNR, and longtime APR proponents like me. There’s absolutely no doubt we’re seeing more big deer in Permit Area 346 where I hunt, and I’d hate to lose APR.
But if we’re going to slow the spread of CWD, we may have no choice. At the very least, expect a lengthy discussion about the future of the four-points-or-better rule before the 2019 deer-hunting season begins.