Chronic Wasting Disease is a highly contagious, fatal neurological disease in deer that persists in the environment and can be spread within a short time after exposure, though symptoms take 1.5 to 3 years to manifest.
To date, the Department of Natural Resources has found 36 CWD-positive deer in the state, officials told the House Environment and Natural Resource Finance Division Tuesday. Thirty-five of those were found in the southeast surveillance zone in Houston, Winona and Fillmore counties.
No action was taken.
A special hunt will be held Jan. 25 and Feb. 1 in portions of Winona and Houston counties to collect additional samples.
An estimated $1.3 million was spent from DNR Fish and Game funds in 2018 on surveillance (testing and assessments) and prohibitions against carcass transportation, feeding, and attractants in an effort to control the spread of the disease. But, as noted by DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier, that figure would be insufficient in the face of further outbreaks in the state.
Nor does that figure include the cost of time spent by enforcement personnel investigating CWD-related complaints – easily accounting for additional expenditures in excess of $200,000 per year.
State efforts are currently focused on 17 counties in central and southeast Minnesota, with funding for the CWD response provided entirely through hunting and fishing license revenues.
Pointing out that the issue has deep social and cultural impacts that may conflict with necessary responses, Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin) noted the need for conversation about a response that would “squeeze this disease down and eliminate it.”
Referencing past herd culling due to bovine leukemia, Lueck said, “It’s something we probably need to talk about offline and bring back to the (division). Let the public know what it really takes to get a hold of a disease like this, because it’s not pretty and I don’t think we can hide it.”
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) asked for specifics on carcass disposal practices, both through landfill disposal and remnants left behind by deer being partially processed in the field.
Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager, said either way is unlikely to produce significant exposures without infection rates in the deer population being significantly higher than they currently are.
Becker-Finn also expressed concern over taxpayers footing an estimated $150,000 annually per farm for surveillance around deer farms where CWD has been detected and deer continue to be maintained. The standard is to continue monitoring and control efforts for the duration of the farm maintaining a deer population (even if no longer operating as a farm) and for three years after the site no longer has deer.
Her questions prompted Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls) to suggest a report is needed to explore the continued liabilities of such operations and how required continuing responses are paid for.
While CWD is not believed to be transmittable to humans, current research in Canada has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that people not eat animals infected with the disease.