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Minnesota bill would ban new deer farms, require live chronic wasting disease testing of all farmed deer

The legislation would be the most sweeping anti-CWD measure in the state to date.

A whitetail buck in the late stages of chronic wasting disease.
Contributed / Warden Michael Hopper, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

ST. PAUL — Minnesota would ban any new deer farms in the state and require all captive deer to be tested for chronic wasting disease by new tests available for live animals under a bill that passed a state House committee Wednesday.

The bill, HF 1202, also would shift oversight of captive deer farms, including elk and other cervidae, from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, which usually oversees farm animals, to the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees wild animals.

The bill, the most sweeping anti-CWD measure in the state so far, passed the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee by a voice vote and now moves on to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee. A similar measure, SF 1526, has been introduced in the Senate.

The hearing came a day after several wildlife biologists, scientists, tribal officials and state wildlife officials testified in a joint hearing at the Capitol that CWD was an ongoing threat to the state’s wild deer population and that farmed deer, which are often moved between farms and between states to be sold as trophies, are a big reason that CWD is spreading across the state’s wild deer herd.

CWD has been confirmed on several deer farms across the state, often near areas where the disease has been found in wild deer. Farmed deer are often moved long distances as they are sold for trophy hunting on game farms.


The bill generally has support from deer hunters across the state, including the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, but is opposed by the roughly 250 deer and elk farmers statewide.

“There’s a half-a-million deer hunters in this state. … And I’m one of them,” said Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, chief author of the bill. “Deer hunting is integral to who we are … the legislative intent here is that we protect our wild deer herd.”

The bill also requires double, 10-foot-high fencing for any whitetail deer farms, require ear tags in any captive whitetails and allow hunters to shoot escaped captive deer without penalty.

St. Louis County Board Chairman Patrick Boyle, of Duluth, testified on behalf of the bill Wednesday, noting St. Louis County imposed its own moratorium on any new deer farms in 2022 — the first county in the state to do so.

“The time is now to eradicate this (disease) and take care of it,” Boyle said.

The county won't allow new or expanded deer farms to guard against chronic wasting disease.

But Tim Spreck, lobbyist for the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association, said most of the measures were punitive against deer farmers, would cost deer farm owners too much money and would do little to curb the spread of CWD.

Spreck said the moratorium on any new deer farms is in essence a death blow to deer farming in the state.

“This is really a slow, calculated death for deer farms. ... Make no mistake about it, this is the end of the industry” in Minnesota, Spreck said. “It may take some time to get there, but this is the end.”


While the bill doesn’t go as far as offering a buyout, using state funds to pay for deer farmers to get rid of their animals, Spreck said that would be a more palatable option for the farmers.

“If you really want to do it. … Let’s buy them out. Let’s give them a way out of the industry where they can hold up their heads without being crushed by the heavy hand of government,” Spreck said.

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Some lawmakers suggested the bill be amended to include state funding to buy out deer farmers in addition to banning new deer farms, to pay farmers to eliminate their herds. But others said taxpayer money should not be used to rescue private, for-profit businesses from their self-created problems.

The bill includes a provision that, starting July 1 this year, all farmed deer must be tested annually using a new, live-animal test using a biopsy from a sample from a deer’s ear. If the animal tests positive it must be tested again and, if two positive tests occur the animal must be killed and the entire herd tested for CWD.

Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurological disease found in deer, elk, moose and other members of the deer family. It is similar to “mad cow” disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. It has never been known to transmit to humans but is always fatal in deer.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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