TOWER—Chronic wasting disease was the topic of most concern to about two dozen area residents who turned out for a whitetail deer management discussion at the DNR’s area office here on Tuesday. …
TOWER—Chronic wasting disease was the topic of most concern to about two dozen area residents who turned out for a whitetail deer management discussion at the DNR’s area office here on Tuesday.
With the recent discovery of a wild deer with the highly-contagious disease, north of Brainerd, concerns over CWD have spiked among those who consume venison in northern Minnesota. It’s also a concern to DNR wildlife managers, who rely on license sales for much of the revenue that funds their operations. The more widespread problem of CWD in southeastern Minnesota has already led to a 10-15 percent drop in deer permit sales there, according to DNR biologist Jeremy Masloski. “Hunters just don’t want to deal with that can of worms,” he said. Tower area wildlife manager Tom Rusch said Wisconsin, where the disease is far more established than in Minnesota, has also seen a decline in license sales.
And the issue was clearly on the minds of the hunters who turned out to air their concerns regarding deer management to wildlife staff in Tower. Hunters were frustrated with the DNR’s limited legal authority to manage the risks surrounding game farms, deer feeding, and also the sale of deer products, particularly urine-based scents, which several hunters suggested could be another means that the prions that cause CWD could be spread throughout the region.
Rusch acknowledged that the DNR has not tested the various deer scents that are sold throughout the state but acknowledged that they could pose a risk.
Rusch said other types of attractants, like mineral blocks, can also be a risk, since deer can spread prions in their saliva. He said that’s one reason he’s stopped using mineral licks where he hunts. “We can take a lot of these steps on our own,” said Rusch, suggesting that solutions aren’t always dependent on new laws or regulations.
The good news is that the one positive test north of Brainerd may be a relatively isolated instance. So far, Rusch said USDA animal control staff have taken about 20 other wild deer in the vicinity, without finding any other positive tests. But he noted that the owner of the game farm suspected in the transmission of CWD to the wild deer has refused to remove his animals and state law does not currently require that he do so. The farm has had several positive CWD tests in recent years.
Several hunters urged more study. Rusch agreed that more research is needed, but noted that wildlife studies are expensive. “Our budget can’t handle this,” he said, noting that the issue takes limited staff time away from other types of management work. He noted that DNR wildlife staff is already stretched thin, with just 2.5 full-time equivalent staff in Tower to cover a 3.1 million-acre work area.
Rusch also gave an update on the winter severity, in response to a question about why the DNR didn’t fund a feeding effort this year. Rusch said it appears the winter severity index will finish up the season at about 140-150. That’s considerably above the average of 115-120 in the area, but below 180 which is the general threshold to be considered “severe”. Yet even at 140, “we are losing deer,” said Rusch.
The winter severity index includes a point for each day with a snow depth of 15 inches or greater and each day with a temperature of zero degrees or below. The DNR uses the index as a management tool to gauge winter deer mortality.