CWD disease doesn’t stand in way of local hunters

Published 7:54 am Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When local hunters heard Chronic Wasting Disease had been found in a Minnesota deer last week, they didn’t panic.

Travvis Stayton of Austin has hunted deer for about 20 years, and he’s not going to stop. Though CWD has been prevalent in whitetails in surrounding states for several years, it’s not something he and other hunters usually discuss.

Stayton has heard the disease cannot taint venison or spread to humans. He’s right. And putting meat in the freezer is a main reason Stayton hunts every year.

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He’s optimistic about the current situation.

“If it’s only one deer that has it, it doesn’t mean the whole herd has it,” he said. “It’s not going to change my perspective on hunting deer.”

Stayton doesn’t foresee the problem having any effect on his friends or family and the way they hunt deer either.

However, CWD strikes curiosity in Stayton and others.

“I do wonder how they get the disease,” he said. “Is it from something they eat? Is it from farmer’s fields?”

Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator, tests Minnesota’s deer for CWD. The deer don’t contract the disease from eating certain foods, he said. Nobody is quite sure how it originated. What experts know is that CWD is caused by a protein in the brain and nervous system and causes deer to act strange. Drooling, staggering, excessive thirst and emaciation are a few of the effects. They also know deer pass it to each other through saliva, feces and urine.

Hunters Ben and Diane Jacobsen of LeRoy aren’t stressing about the issue either.

“We’ve got so many deer around here; even if we couldn’t eat the meat we’d still hunt bucks,” Diane said.

The Jacobsens’ kids have been looking forward to hunting, as this year will be their first hunt. CWD won’t stop that.

What the Jacobsens fear is the potential effects on area wildlife. If CWD could transfer to other animals, such as eagles, coyotes, raccoons or skunks, they wonder how far down the line it could go.

The Jacobsens are opening a pheasant and upland bird hunting preserve in the fall. They breed and train bird dogs — Ben’s main concern. CWD in their dogs would possibly ruin what they have started.

According to the Center for Disease Control, that’s not possible. CWD stays within a few similar species, such as deer, elk and moose.

Although some hunters won’t stop hunting; area DNR Wildlife Manager Jeanine Vorland said hunter turnout could initially decline. But she noted how dedicated Mower County’s deer hunters have been and sees no long term effects.

Cornicelli agrees with Vorland. Although hunting significantly declined in Wisconsin when CWD was discovered, Minnesota is way ahead of the curve. Not only do hunters know a lot more about the disease today, Minnesota’s surveillance of CWD has been second-to-none. Since 2002, more than 32,000 of Minnesota’s deer tested negative for CWD — until now.

The infected deer, found last week near Pine Island, was near an elk farm already known to have CWD. Cournicelli said wildlife workers plan more surveillance in that area and will also ban recreational feeding for some time.

In Mower County, things will continue as usual. The DNR plans no new tests or surveillance for Mower unless it can prove spread of the disease.

Cornicelli looks at the positive side of things. CWD has been in deer long before anyone realized its existence, and Minnesota’s deer are testing healthier than anywhere else.

“Deer aren’t going to start dropping over dead tomorrow,” Cournicelli said.

Southeastern Minnesota’s DNR officials met Monday regarding the recent find — but not because they panicked. They’re devising more plans to stay ahead of the disease.