On the disease hunt; DNR developing plan to halt spread of CWD

Published 8:17 am Thursday, December 1, 2016

By Tony Kennedy

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Testing by big game wildlife managers did not detect new cases of chronic wasting disease in a second batch of deer killed by hunters in southeastern Minnesota, a top research manager for the Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.

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But the agency remains focused on creating a response plan to stop the disease in an area where two CWD-positive deer were harvested this fall near Lanesboro.

Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager, said officials have placed wooden drop-off boxes in Lanesboro, Preston, Chatfield and Harmony for hunters to donate deer heads for more testing. On Thursday, he said, the DNR’s CWD response team will meet to establish boundaries for a disease management zone that could be in the range of 300 square miles — similar in size to the emergency response zone created in 2011 when Minnesota recorded its first case of CWD in a wild deer.

Once mapped, special hunts will be conducted inside the zone to reduce deer density and recreational deer feeding will be banned, Cornicelli said. Both measures will be aimed at stopping deer from crowding. The disease can spread from one deer to another from nose-to-nose contact, contact with saliva or other body fluids.

“There’s no real specifics or details worked out yet,” Cornicelli said. “We’ve got head boxes out there and we’re asking hunters who kill a deer to drop it off and fill out a data sheet.”

He said the agency will routinely empty the boxes and submit the heads for CWD testing.

The two CWD-positive deer were killed about a mile apart, four miles east of Lanesboro in Fillmore County.

The deer, both male, were the only two to test positive from 2,493 samples collected Nov. 5-13 in proactive CWD screening by the DNR. A subsequent round of testing, applied to 373 deer harvested later in November, was finished more recently with no findings of CWD, Cornicelli said.

In the past, CWD has been known to spread from captive deer or elk to wild herds. Cornicelli said four commercial cervid operations are located within 10 miles of where the two CWD-positive deer were killed this fall. In Minnesota, the Board of Animal Health oversees those operations.