House natural resources concerned about Chronic Wasting Disease

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

One response to a likely case of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) infecting a female deer taken near Pine Island by a hunter last November could be a ban on recreational deer feeding.

A House natural resources committee today (Tuesday, Jan. 25) took testimony from Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials about the suspected case of CWD — if the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirms the diagnose, it will be the first time the disease has been detected in Minnesota.

“(Committee) members this is serious stuff,” said Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, of the possible infection.

It’s something of great concern to Minnesota’s half of million deer hunters, he said.

CWD is a disease naturally occurring in deer, moose, Rocky Mountain elk — it’s always fatal.

Detected in 13 other states

Caused by an abnormal protein, CWD has already been detected in animals in 13 other states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, the Dakotas, and in Canada.

Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game coordinator, told the committee there’s no evidence the disease is transmittable to humans.

In deer, the abnormal protein, called a prion, attacks the brain.

Symptoms may not show up for months, even years.

But when they do, they include drooping heads or ears, body spasms, stumbling, inability to swallow, and other symptoms, according to the DNR.

Although the suspected infected doe taken near Pine Island would be first known incident of CWD in the state, the disease was diagnosed in a domestic elk herd near Aitkin in 2002.

More recently, several captive elk at a farm near Pine Island were discovered to have CWD early last year. The elk at the former farm were destroyed.

Shot within three miles of former elk farm

The likely infected doe was shot within three miles of the former elk farm.

But according to the DNR, the exact pathway of the CWD transmission to the doe — to the state — may never be known.

The closest deer discovered with CWD in Wisconsin is 150 miles away from the Minnesota site.

According to Dr. Paul Anderson of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, restrictions exist on shipping captive deer and elk from within CWD zones into the Minnesota.

For instance, the animals cannot be shipped into Minnesota from parts of southern Wisconsin, he noted.

After broadly testing for CWD throughout Southeast Minnesota last year, the DNR has narrowed it surveillance to within 25 miles of the infected elk farm.

Conducting aerial surveys

Currently, DNR officials are undertaking aerial surveys within 10 square miles of the area where the likely infected deer was taken to get a sense of the size of the deer herd. This will help define their CWD management zone.

Once this zone is established, the DNR proposes to work with local landowners to gain additional deer samples. This could be done through a late season deer hunt, sharpshooting, other means.

Almost all the land within the area is privately owned.

The DNR plans a public meeting soon near Pine Island to discuss their proposal with the public.

With the deep snow, deer are currently yarded up — staying in sheltered areas. But a doe has a normal range of about a square mile.

Another response the DNR is considering is a ban on recreational deer feeding.

Although it’s possible the protein that causes CWD can lay in the ground for years to surface to infect future generations of deer, one sure way for deer to transmit CWD is to rub noses, Cornicelli explained. And good way for them to do this is “sharing a trough,” he said.

It’s believed it’s less likely deer transmit CWD to each other while feeding in cornfields, or on other cropland.

What are the long-term responses?

Long-term responses to the possible CWD infection could include import/export restrictions on wild deer parts, developing a statistically-based sampling protocol, and within the proposed CWD zone reduce deer density.

The DNR does not rule out the chance of other Minnesota deer being diagnosed with CWD, but suggest it’s unlikely infections exist across the state.

The Wisconsin DNR has established CWD deer hunting zones that feature such special rules as earn-a-buck — a hunter must shoot a doe first before taking a buck — special doe hunts, and late season hunts.

It was first discovered in Wisconsin whitetail in 2002.

But CWD was first described in Colorado back in 1967.

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