Minnesota DNR responds to the discovery of chronic wasting disease in southeast Minnesota

PRESTON, Minn. – More than 700 people packed into Preston High School to hear what the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to do in response to the discovery of chronic wasting disease in two southeast Minnesota deer.

“Our initial response is really going to be to do what we can do to either eliminate the disease or reduce the possibility of it spreading to larger areas,” explains Dr. Lou Cornicelli, a wildlife research manager with the DNR who spoke during the public meting.

The response plan began with establishing a 370 square mile disease management zone around where the two infected deer were found. There will be a special winter hunt from Dec. 31 – Jan. 15 in the zone that Cornicelli says will have liberal regulations, including eliminating the antler point restriction. The DNR will also be issuing landowner shooting permits. Between the special hunt and landowner permits, they hope to collect 900 more samples to test for CWD.

“The long-term goal for all of us is a healthy and productive deer population,” Cornicelli adds. “If that means we have to lower densities in the short-term to do that, then I think that’s the right thing to do.”

Some at the meeting did express concern about this plan eliminating the deer population in the zone, however Cornicelli says it will only be a “modest reduction” of around 25 percent of the population.

It’s a response plan Cornicelli says they have used before.

“Once in bovine tuberculosis in the northwestern part of the state and once before in Pine Island, Minnesota, just north of Rochester. “It’s pretty much out of the playbook of other states,” he says.

But that is exactly why some residents living in the area like Gary Olson are concerned. Olson has been a deer farmer for nearly 20 years — he’s part of the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association and serves on the Board of Animal Health Advisory Committee. Not only has he done research on CWD, he has first-hand experience with the disease.

“I was involved in the Brakke depopulation under Dr. Haley,” he explains.

In 2014, the Brakke deer farm near Clear Lake, Iowa, was devastated by CWD. Around 350 deer were killed, and about 75 percent of them tested positive for the disease.

Olson says the Minnesota DNR seems to be ignoring reports out of other states that suggest population reductions are not successful in preventing the spread of CWD.

“Wisconsin’s plan failed so bad over there and had so much public repercussion that Gov. Walker hired a trustee committee to come in and audit and make recommendations (based on) what they did wrong and the recommendations come back to exactly the opposite of what they were doing,” Olson explains. “Then he’s over here telling us to do what they did which turns out to be what the audit committee said not to do, does this make sense to you?”

Dr. James Kroll was hired to put together that trustee committee in Wisconsin and reviewed more than 194,000 CWD reports for the state since 2003. In a report questioning the validity of Wisconsin’s CWD claims Kroll states: “There is not a single example of eradicating, controlling or even managing CWD in any state.”

Kroll also concluded that he doesn’t believe the disease will devastate deer herds or deer hunting.

Another study Olson references is a Journal of Wildlife Management study out of Illinois that examines if population density control could hinder disease management. See link below for details on the study.

There’s a lot about CWD that is unknown, including exactly how it can be transmitted. Because of that, folks like Olson have concerns about how CWD is currently being managed. However, the DNR is asking for people to be patient as the situation evolves.

“I don’t want to leave that legacy that I didn’t do anything or that I didn’t do enough,” explains Cornicelli. “I don’t think it would be fair if 50 years from now the person doing this interview looks back and says, ‘That Italian guy didn’t do what he should have done,’ and that’s the difficult thing to understand and that’s where our differences are.”

For details on the entire CWD management plan:

For information on the special winter hunt, follow the link below.

The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have found no scientific evidence that the disease presents a health risk to humans who come in contact with infected animals or eat infected meat, but the CDC advises against eating meat from animals known to have the disease.

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