Gov. Walz: transfer oversight of game farms
St. Paul — With a legislative impasse and possible state shutdown looming, Gov. Tim Walz made a splash in natural resources omnibus bill negotiations with a letter this week asking committee chairs to transfer oversight of deer and elk farms from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to the Minnesota DNR.
The letter, addressed to both environment and natural resources committee chairs in the House and Senate and agriculture committee chairs, came a day after a meeting between those chairs and both DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen and Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen.
“I am very much supportive of transferring oversight,” said Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee. “We need to get it done sooner than later. I am hopeful that everybody can come to agreement on it.”
Walz referenced recent events regarding chronic wasting disease, which has seen an enlarged footprint in the state in recent years, both in the wild and among deer farms around the state with deer that have tested positive for the disease.
“Unfortunately, current circumstances require a change in course, as demonstrated by the recent discovery of a CWD-positive deer farm in Beltrami County, which includes a carcass disposal site on adjacent county-managed land,” Walz wrote. “It’s clear that we need a new strategy to address the problem of CWD in farmed white-tailed deer.”
Walz said the leaders of the executive and legislative branches of state government need “to unite at this pivotal moment to protect Minnesota’s wild white-tailed deer and our deer hunting traditions.”
He wrote that as the chairs work with his commissioners to come to an agreement on the environment and natural resources omnibus bill, he was communicating his support for the transfer of oversight of farmed deer to the DNR.
“This change allows BAH to focus more directly on its mission, while the DNR can apply a different set of tools and expertise to the management and containment of CWD in both wild and farmed white-tailed deer,” he wrote.
News of the letter was well received by at least two key members of the state’s conservation community.
Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said his organization supports the governor’s letter, “but we think more needs to be done as reflected in our letter to the conference committee.”
MDHA sent a letter on May 5, addressed to Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, citing the group’s support for allowing licensed deer hunters to kill and possess escaped farmed cervids without being liable to the owner for the loss of the animal, a provision that required farmed cervids to have certain contact information, required double fencing for cervid farms, and prohibited new white-tailed deer farm registrations, among other things CWD-related, most of which originated in the House.
Many of those provisions have been largely opposed by most Senate Republicans.
“The discovery of the CWD-positive (deer) in Beltrami County plus the piling of carcasses on public land is a game-changer in that it has awakened deer hunters across the state who may have thought CWD was a problem somewhere else,” Engwall said.
Dave Carlson, president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, said he was both surprised and pleased about the governor’s letter.
Carlson said he’s been leaving messages with the governor, pleading with him to take action on the issue for some time now.
“I am glad that he made a gesture and I hope that the majorities listen and say, ‘we have to get off the bubble here,’” Carlson said. “It just has to happen. … I think it is big news that the governor is taking a position.”
Carlson said he hopes Senate Republicans will “get off the bubble,” on the issue.
“It is really important that something gets done,” Carlson said. “Each and every week, (Outdoor News) is publishing something about another outbreak. We have to do something. I have gotten 40 emails in the past week saying deer farms have got to go.”
It wouldn’t be the first time the DNR has had oversight of farmed deer – and the BAH has been highly criticized by both of the state’s two deer conservation groups for the way it’s regulated cervid farmers.
“I would say that they have not done an adequate job,” Carlson said. “They are too willing to say they have their hands tied behind their back due to statutory limitations.”
Legislators have until June 30 to agree on the omnibus bills that contain policy and the next two-year budget, which begins July 1. They are expected to meet for a special session June 14.