Regular readers of this space know I touch on Chronic Wasting Disease quite a bit.
But there is a good reason for the updates: It’s a disease that has the potential to not only devastate the whitetail deer population in Minnesota, but to end deer hunting as we know it.
One needs to look no further than at our neighbors in Wisconsin to see what happens if CWD — a fatal neurological disease that affects deer and for which there is no cure — is left unchecked.
While so far only 32 deer have tested positive for CWD in Minnesota — all in southeast counties — Wisconsin’s deer population is basically infested, and no one really knows just how far the disease has spread throughout the herd.
CWD, which is transferred when infected cervids (deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose) get too close to heathy animals, has been confirmed in at least 26 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, South Korea, Finland, Norway and Sweden, with a notable increase in the past five years.
This week, Brad Robideau from the University of Minnesota reached out to me to provide an update on the latest efforts in the ongoing fight to slow the spread.
According to Robideau, it was announced that the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the main campus of the U of M has launched a new online CIDRAP CWD Resource Center dedicated to educating the public (particularly hunters) the medical and public health communities, wildlife scientists and managers and public policymakers and elected officials about CWD.
According to a press release from officials at CIDRAP, the continued geographic spread of this disease increases the frequency of exposure to CWD prions among cervids, humans and other animal species.
And although CWD has not yet been found to cause infections in humans, numerous health agencies advise that people should not consume CWD-positive animals.
The CIDRAP CWD Resource Center is part of CIDRAP’s Chronic Wasting Disease Response, Research and Policy Program, a national program responding to the CWD wildlife disease crisis and its potential for animal-to-human and human-to-human transmission.
Officials say CIDRAP CWD Resource Center has the most current information on all aspects of CWD epidemiology, prevention, research, and policy.
“Our goal is to make the CIDRAP CWD Resource Center a comprehensive, one-stop resource on CWD complete with relevant and useful information for hunters, researchers, wildlife biologists, veterinarians, physicians, members of the media, and national, state or provincial policymakers or elected officials,” said Michael T. Osterholm, University of Minnesota Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health and director of CIDRAP.
This announcement comes on the heels of an influx of cash from the state to combat the disease, most notably from this year’s omnibus bill which provides $1.87 million from the General Fund and $2.85 million from the Game and Fish Fund to address CWD.
It also requires cervid (deer and elk) farm owners to use high tensile fencing material and to depopulate herds promptly following detection of chronic wasting disease and appraisal of the herd value.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also announced this week that a new deer feeding and attractant went into effect this weekend in certain parts of the state where there is a higher risk of the disease.
Northern Minnesota is not part of the area being targeted, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for those who like to feed deer to take a look at what is happening in the southeast and north central part of the state and re-think their habits.
The disease spreads when multiple deer congregate in one spot and deer feeders and attractants are two reasons why they do. Shared food allows direct deer-to-deer contact. Diseased deer also can contaminate the food even if they are not present when healthy deer come to eat.
The restrictions begin Sunday in the following areas:
•Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Stearns, Wright and the portion of Renville County north of U.S. Highway 212.
•Southeast counties: Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Steele, Wabasha, Winona, Dodge, Freeborn, Goodhue and Steele.
•North central counties: Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena. Hubbard, Todd, Wadena, Cass and Mille Lacs.
While CWD hasn’t been found in all the counties listed, it’s been found close enough to warrant action.
“We understand people often enjoy feeding birds or other animals, but this has inherent risks,” said Erik Hildebrand, a DNR wildlife health specialist said in a recent news release. “Adhering to the DNR’s restrictions on feeding and attractants is a way that every Minnesotan can help prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease by limiting areas where deer are in close contact and thus at higher risk of disease transmission.”
The DNR is also expanding hunting opportunities and bag limits in areas where CWD has been found in wild deer. Officials say harvesting more deer will reduce the possibility of additional disease spread because there will be fewer deer in lower densities.
“Whether you’re someone who just likes seeing white-tailed deer or a hunter who looks forward to enjoying venison for dinner, many Minnesotans share the desire for a healthy deer population,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The management actions we’ve built into this fall’s deer hunting regulations are critical for protecting deer now and preserving this resource for future generations.”