The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday said no new deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease in the north-central portion of the state where both wild and tame deer have carried the disease.
Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor, said 700 archer-killed wild deer in the Brainerd-Merrifield area have been tested since the bow season began in September and no new CWD-positive deer have been found.
“That’s good news,’’ Carstensen said.
In southeastern Minnesota, where all deer shot must be tested for CWD, two of 1,500 deer tested so far during bow season have been CWD-positive and another case is likely. That was expected because the disease has been spreading in that area for several years.
Minnesota’s annual firearms deer hunting season starts Saturday and, in northeastern Minnesota, runs for 16 days. More than 450,000 hunters are expected to go afield and harvest about 200,000 deer statewide.
All of the deer shot in several southeastern counties and in the CWD-positive area of north-central Minnesota will be sampled by hundreds of DNR staff and wildlife students from nearby colleges — some 700 people in all.
“It’s all hands on deck,’’ Carstensen said as Minnesota tries to limit the spread of the disease as much as possible.
In addition, Barbara Keller, Minnesota DNR big game program leader, noted the 2017 discovery of an infected captive deer in Meeker County in central Minnesota that necessitated surveillance in that area.
This is the third year of CWD testing in this area. No wild deer have been found to be infected.
According to the DNR website, the central Minnesota surveillance area includes deer permit areas 277 and 283 east of State Highway 4, deer permit area 219 south of State Highway 55, and deer permit area 285 north of State Highway 7.
During the first two days of the firearms season, (Nov. 9-10), within approximately 15 miles of the CWD-positive deer farm in Meeker County, hunters are required to have the deer they harvest tested for CWD. Stations will be staffed in Litchfield, Kimball, Hutchinson and Howard Lake
Keller noted the process is faster when hunters present the deer with the head and neck easily accessible for testing, while it’s always smart to notify testers if the deer is intended to be mounted by a taxidermist so the procedure can be done to protect the future mount.
As of Friday some 153,085 firearms deer licenses had been sold so far, up 16% from that date in 2018, many of those youth licenses thanks to the early October youth deer season that was held, DNR officials said Monday.
First diagnosed in 1967 in a Colorado elk research facility and a few years later in a similar Wyoming facility, CWD falls into a category of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies — including mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and goats and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans — which basically turn the brain into a sponge.
Always fatal, CWD affects the entire cervid family, including deer, elk and moose. It is spread through direct contact with an infected animal’s saliva, urine, blood, feces, antler velvet or carcass. There is no vaccine or treatment.
There are no known cases of the disease transferring from deer or deer meat to humans. But health experts warn that it might, some say it’s only a matter of time, and officials with several agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, warn people not to eat deer from infected animals.
CWD has been found in 26 states, three Canadian provinces, South Korea, Finland, Norway and Sweden, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In some areas of southern Wisconsin, where the state did little to slow the spread of CWD, as many as half the deer carry the disease.
In Minnesota, multiple animals on eight deer or elk farms and 54 wild deer have tested positive, the DNR said, all in the southeast, north-central and central parts of the state.
In addition to mandatory testing in CWD-positive areas, the DNR has banned feeding deer in those areas and has banned the use of many scents and attractants. The DNR also prohibits any deer shot in a CWD-positive area from being transported out of that area; it must be processed in the area it is shot.
Minnesota lawmakers this year approved $1.87 million allocated from the state’s general tax fund and $2.85 million from the state’s Game and Fish Fund to the DNR’s CWD management effort.
While the DNR doesn’t require it, hunters from any area of the state can pay to have their deer tested for CWD. The University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory charges residents $83 for the test. For more information, call 612-625-8787.