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Study could prove CWD spread

After finding Chronic Wasting Disease in a deer in Olmsted County, the Department of Natural Resources is beginning a mass study that will indicate if other counties should be on the lookout.

For now, the DNR has set up a perimeter between Highways 14, 57, 60 and 63 in Olmsted County where residents can apply for permits to shoot deer for the study. The goal is to take roughly 900 deer and test them for the disease. Because CWD is a brain disease, the deer have to be killed to study it further.

Don Nelson, DNR area wildlife manager in Olmsted County, said the study shouldn’t have long-term effects on the population because there are roughly 6,500 deer in that perimeter, he and others estimate.

“It will reduce the population a little bit, but we’re not going to decimate the herd,” he said. “We’re not trying to eradicate them either”

During winter, deer herds converge and find cover in the same places; so now is the optimum time to complete the study. According to Jeanine Vorland, area wildlife manager for Mower County, the herds will be heavily concentrated for another three to four weeks. For that reason, the study will last through February.

Nelson said so many landowners have applied for permits that it’s hard keeping up.

“I’ve really been impressed of the cooperation of land owners in the area. I’m very appreciative of it,” Nelson said.

People with permits can keep the deer they kill after the DNR takes a tissue sample. The DNR will also take deer if people don’t want them.

“It’s pretty important to us that these deer don’t go to waste,” Nelson said.

Vorland and Nelson both stressed the importance of not feeding deer at this time, too. Feeding deer allows multiple deer to share from the same food piles and could spread CWD. Although many people may want to feed the deer because of harsh winter conditions, Vorland said it’s a better service to the deer to not feed them and limit the spread of the disease.

She also didn’t think this winter has been particularly hard on deer. The deep snow and long winter have an effect on how far deer travel and where they take shelter, according to Vorland. But she’s more concerned about pheasants and predatory birds taking the brunt of the cold than she is with deer.

“Deer are adapted to winters like this,” Vorland said. “It’s certainly more harsh than usual, but we expect them to pull through as usual.”

For now, the major deer killer remains cars. Vorland also said feeding deer can cause them to cross roads, which is another reason not to feed.

Overall, the health of deer in Mower County has been very good. Vorland got to perform a necropsy on several does last week and found plenty of fat on them.

As for CWD, the DNR doesn’t look to expand its test areas unless it finds more cases close to the boundaries of its current test perimeter.