DNR intensifies CWD response efforts in southeastern Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is taking additional steps to help limit the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer in southeastern Minnesota.

Eleven new cases of wild deer infected with the neurological disease were discovered this fall in or around the CWD disease management zone in Fillmore County.

In response, the DNR will open two special hunts in December; provide shooting permits to landowners; conduct deer culling efforts in January; and will hold a public meeting in Preston on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s wildlife research manager, said the CWD-positive cases indicate the disease is persisting in this area, and the DNR needs to act quickly to contain the disease while it is relatively concentrated in a geographic area.

“The last thing people want is an established disease in their backyards,” said Cornicelli. “States that have CWD established in their wild deer populations have seen declines in both deer populations and deer hunter numbers. We’ll continue to do what we can to avoid that situation here.”

The disease management zone was established by the DNR after CWD was discovered in wild deer near Preston in 2016. The zone is an approximately ten-mile radius around Preston.

To date, there have been 28 detected cases of the neurological disease within the CWD disease management zone, 11 of which were detected this fall. While the majority of positives remain within the disease management zone, discoveries of the disease just outside of the boundary are consistent with expected movement of bucks, which tend to travel alongside rivers during the breeding season.

New DNR actions

The DNR will open two separate three-day deer hunts in December in and around the disease management zone.

Residents and nonresidents can participate in the hunts from Friday, Dec. 21, to Sunday, Dec. 23, and Friday, Dec. 28, to Sunday, Dec. 30, in deer permit areas 603, 347 and 348, and portions of deer permit areas 343 and 345 that are south of Interstate 90.

Because the disease is spread through direct contact with an infected deer’s saliva, urine, blood, feces, antler velvet or carcass, reductions in deer numbers is part of a multi-pronged approach to limit disease spread. CWD is an always-fatal neurological disease that affects the cervid family, which includes deer, elk and moose.

The DNR made the boundary for these special hunts larger than that of last year’s special hunt to account for the new CWD-positive deer found outside of the established disease management zone — known as permit area 603 in Fillmore County. The DNR also considered information from the agency’s southeast deer movement study.

Hunters must plan ahead and should check the DNR’s website at mndnr.gov/cwd for complete details about the special hunts, hunt rules and considerations, station locations for registration and CWD sampling, carcass transport restrictions, a map of the hunt area, and information about the DNR’s efforts to keep Minnesota wild deer healthy.

Private land makes up most of the area within the hunt area and hunters must have landowner permission to hunt that land. Public lands open during the regular season are open during the special hunts. Hunters can check the DNR’s Recreation Compass at mndnr.gov/maps/compass for more details about public lands.

Permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis for each hunt for Forestville State Park and Pin Oak Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) starting at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 5. There is no fee for these permits and they can be obtained online or wherever DNR licenses are sold. The Cherry Grove Blind Valley SNA, which adjoins the Cherry Grove Wildlife Management Area, will also be open to deer hunting; no special permit is required.

The DNR will also provide shooting permits to landowners interested in removing deer from their property. DNR staff will reach out directly to landowners within the CWD management zone with information about that program.

The DNR also plans to conduct targeted culling starting in mid-January. The DNR will be working with local landowners and coordinating with the United States Department of Agriculture to remove deer from areas where CWD-positive deer were found.

Final CWD test results and preliminary findings from the DNR’s ongoing research on deer movement in southeastern Minnesota will affect how the DNR manages the disease going forward.

Public meeting set

DNR researchers will also be surveying hunters and landowners throughout southeastern Minnesota. The study’s goal is to measure attitudes toward the disease and DNR management, and to measure support for potential management actions, including providing incentives to hunters and landowners to help curb disease spread.

The DNR will also have a public meeting in Preston to provide information about CWD and the DNR’s management response to its discovery. The meeting will be held at 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 18, in the Fillmore Central School Auditorium at 702 Chatfield St.

DNR staff will explain the CWD efforts to date and how the current response is designed to limit its spread. They will also discuss response measures including the disease management zone, special late-season deer hunts, landowner shooting permits, targeted culling and snow-dependent aerial deer survey.

Cornicelli said managing CWD is challenging because of how it spreads and persists in the deer population. For example, 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. So far this year, all 11 new detections are adult males.

Learn about test results

Hunters can find CWD test results of deer tested through mandatory surveillance, as well as locations of positive test results and statistics, at mndnr.gov/cwdcheck. More information about CWD can be found on the DNR’s CWD page at mndnr.gov/cwd.

While there is no evidence that humans can contract CWD, the Centers for Disease Control recommends testing deer for CWD. CDC recommends not eating meat from a known positive animal. For more information, please visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/prions/cwd.