Chronic wasting disease dominated the conversation between Brainerd area Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife management officials and residents during an informal, two-hour open house Tuesday, April 2.
The DNR is hosting open houses statewide to have discussions about deer, deer management and enhancing relationships between the DNR and the public. The DNR began the meetings last year with the release of its statewide deer management plan.
Christine Reisz and Nate Thom with the Brainerd DNR office were on hand to answer people’s questions during the open house. There was no presentation given to the estimated 15 people who showed up. The DNR supplied packets of information, including:
• Proposed expansion of youth deer hunting season;
• Proposed small game and deer season changes;
• The 2019 deer plan implementation of priorities;
• Surveillance and management plan for CWD in free-ranging cervids in Minnesota;
• A statewide CWD response plan questionnaire, residents were asked to fill out.
As the DNR staff expected, the people who attended mainly had questions about CWD after Crow Wing County documented its first case earlier this year.
A wild deer carcass with CWD — a degenerative neurological condition that inevitably ravages the brain and emaciates the body—was discovered Jan. 23. A sample was tested and was confirmed Feb. 14 that it had the disease. The carcass was found near Upper Mission Lake and was in close proximity to Trophy Woods Ranch, which in 2016 was determined to have CWD-infected animals in its enclosure. There’s been no shortage of vitriol directed at the game preserve and other deer farms across the state.
After the confirmation of CWD in the county, the Department of Agricultural sent wildlife damage specialists to shoot wild deer for testing to determine if the disease had spread to other deer. In a two-week period, which ended Thursday, USDA federal specialists shot 66 deer within two miles of where the confirmed CWD case was located. Of the 66 deer, 55 of the tests came back negative; the remaining 11 tests are pending as the tests are not yet complete. Four land owners, who were given permits, also shot 14 deer and 10 tests came back negative, with the remaining four are pending.
The CWD testing is being done at Colorado State University. CWD was first described in Colorado in 1967.
Reisz, area wildlife manager, said the DNR is pleased with the results so far. She said the DNR is working on establishing a disease management zone to be in place by deer season. The disease management zone is the area where the CWD carcass was found. Every deer shot in this zone will be required to have the deer tested for CWD.
“This will be mandatory within the disease management zone for all hunting seasons—muzzleloader, archery and rifle,” Reisz said. “Last year we did just the firearms opener as a precautionary measure because of the captive herd that had CWD, and this season it will be all hunting seasons.”
The DNR will have check stations for hunters during rifle season and head boxes for muzzleloader and archery seasons for people to drop off their deer to be tested.
Reisz said the DNR will have liberal rules for the deer hunting season in the disease management zone.
“People are going to have a lot more opportunities to hunt deer within the disease management zone,” Reisz said. “This may include more landowners permits, extended seasons—we’re doing a more liberal take during the regular deer season. This will help reduce the deer population and reduce the risk of disease spread and see if it’s out there.”
Reisz said the DNR is not concerned about CWD in other parts of the Brainerd lakes area, as the DNR collected more than 8,600 samples over the past two years. She said if someone harvests a deer and are concerned it may have the disease, they can mail a sample to the lab in Colorado and have it tested.
Reisz also noted that the deer feeding ban in the county is still intact and will continue for at least another 18 months.
Reisz sat down with Eric Sullivan of Pillager, Dave Wickham of Staples and Mike Kilpatrick of Merrifield. All three area residents shared the same concerns about CWD and wanted to know the DNR’s plan for managing, both in the short term and long term.
Kilpatrick, who lives near where the confirmed CWD case was found, said he is very concerned about CWD. He also has property in Pine River and worries about the disease spreading, as it is in 23 states and three provinces in Canada in North America.
“No one really knows much about the disease in how it spreads and how to control it,” he said. “Going forward I want to know how the DNR is going to manage it and if they are going to do some studies to learn more about the disease.”
Sullivan also wanted to see what the DNR was proposing for the disease management zone, and whether they would expand it. Sullivan said the DNR showed them a map and it didn’t include his property.
Sullivan also wanted to talk with the DNR about a wolf problem he has in Zone 246.
“We see them every once in awhile, but it is rare to see them,” Sullivan said. “There is always tracks and we see them weekly on the trail cameras and have come across a wolf kill, too.”
John Faust, south of Brainerd, who has not gone to any previous DNR meetings on CWD, said he attended the open house because he is an avid deer hunter and has property, so he is concerned about CWD.
“I don’t know how much longer I will be deer hunting, but I have children and grandchildren who use the land and we would like to continue,” Faust said of deer hunting. “I was reading about (CWD) down in the southeast part of the state and when I learned it’s here now it is concerning.
“I came here because I want to learn what the next steps are, what we should be doing to help.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports for animals, CWD is always fatal, may have an incubation of more than a year and clear neurological signs may develop slowly. The CDC added the disease does not appear to naturally infect cattle or other domesticated animals.
People may visit the DNR website at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/cwd for more information and to find the online survey for the CWD response plan. The survey is two pages long and the deadline is April 8. Survey questions include if people think the Minnesota DNR’s management of CWD is too aggressive, about right or not aggressive enough; and if they support or oppose several possible regulations, such as having a muzzleloading weekend in October.