Published February 17, 2013, 05:52 AM

BRAD DOKKEN: Bovine TB eradication ends painful chapter for hunters, cattlemen

A painful chapter in northwest Minnesota deer hunting and wildlife management came to an end this past week when the Department of Natural Resources declared bovine tuberculosis appears to have been eradicated from the region’s deer herd.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

A painful chapter in northwest Minnesota deer hunting and wildlife management came to an end this past week when the Department of Natural Resources declared bovine tuberculosis appears to have been eradicated from the region’s deer herd.

Good riddance.

The DNR’s announcement came after three years of extensive testing failed to produce any new positive samples of the contagious respiratory disease, which originally was found in cattle near Skime, Minn., and later in nearby wild deer.

I still remember the afternoon in July 2005 when a news release came off the office fax machine indicating bovine TB had been found in cattle near Skime, a small town in the far southeast corner of Roseau County.

Growing up in Roseau County, I was familiar with the area and know people who live there or own hunting camps nearby. I didn’t give the TB news much thought, though, until the DNR confirmed the disease in wild deer it began testing that fall.

Since then, a look through the archives shows I’ve written more than 100 stories, columns or shorter items about the bovine TB cases near Skime. Being an outdoors writer, my stories generally focused on the disease as it related to deer and deer hunting, but bovine TB also affected the lives of nearby cattle producers who were forced to exterminate hundreds of animals in an effort to eradicate the disease.

Those efforts helped Minnesota regain its TB-free status in cattle in 2011, but the DNR committed to sample wild deer until achieving three consecutive years of negative test results.

This past week’s news suggests the end of what once was a very dark tunnel has been reached.

“These people made significant sacrifices to make sure Minnesota livestock and wildlife are free of this disease,” Bill Hartmann, state veterinarian and executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said in a statement. “Their cooperation does not go unnoticed.”

Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor for the DNR, said the state’s response to battling the disease stands as an “international example.” The DNR sampled some 11,000 deer for the disease and 27 ultimately tested positive.

“We have accomplished what many believed was not possible,” Carstensen said.

That’s not to say the process always went smoothly. Initially, at least, the DNR’s decision to contract with federal sharpshooters to eradicate deer in the 164-mile TB management zone met opposition that at times bordered on hostile. When the sharpshooters took the campaign to the air for a couple of winters, the animosity heightened.

I remember talking to a deer camp owner in July 2010 during a community celebration in Roseau. The anger and disappointment he expressed about the outbreak and the response to battling the disease was palpable. There were no deer left, he said, and the hunting camp his family had owned for years was no longer a place he enjoyed.

No doubt mistakes were made. No doubt communication with residents and landowners could have been better, at times. Deer hunters in the area made significant sacrifices to battle a problem they didn’t create. And now that the problem appears to have been remedied, hopefully they’re rewarded with a healthy, abundant deer herd.

They’ve earned it.


Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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