The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday imposed an emergency rule to stop the movement of farmed deer in the state in an effort to halt the spread of chronic wasting disease.
The statewide emergency rule, which will be in effect for 30 days, is aimed at stopping the movement of potentially CWD-infected animals between farms in the state or into Minnesota from out of state.
DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said the emergency rule was needed after a deer on a farm in Douglas County near Alexandria, Minn., was found to have CWD and because it wasn’t clear where that animal had been previously.
There’s also evidence that there was movement of deer between the infested farm and other Minnesota deer farms.
Wildlife biologists say the regular movement of deer between deer farms, some of them hundreds of miles apart, is one pathway for the disease to be moved rapidly over large areas, threatening wild herds near any infested deer farms.
“This is an emergency measure to protect wild deer in Minnesota from the threat of chronic wasting disease,’’ Strommen told reporters in a telephone news conference Monday. “Our intent is to close the doors around potential’’ threats.
The 30 days will buy the DNR and Minnesota Board of Animal Health, which regulates animal farms, time to finish the investigation of the Douglas County farm and how many other farms it may have been connected to in the state. The rule applies only to white-tailed deer.
“We need to trace back and find where those deer came from ... and whether other deer moved through that facility and on to other farms,’’ said Col. Rodmen Smith, chief of law enforcement for the DNR.
Minnesota has 339 licensed deer and elk farms; Wisconsin has 360.
Strommen stopped short of supporting a permanent ban on the movement of farmed deer and other members of the deer family within the state — as some deer hunters groups have called for — saying that was a “conversation the Legislature would need to be involved in.”
CWD has spread from a single site in Colorado nearly 50 years ago to some 39 states and Canadian provinces. The disease, for which there is no known cure or antidote, mutates protein prions and destroys the brain and central nervous system of deer, elk, moose and caribou. Those prions can survive indefinitely in soil, even in plants, where infected animals have died or carcasses have been dumped.
Since CWD was first detected in Minnesota in 2002, the DNR has tested more than 90,000 wild deer in the state. To date, 73 wild deer have been confirmed positive for CWD in Minnesota. Several farmed deer and elk also have carried the disease. The Minnesota DNR believes at least three outbreaks of CWD in wild deer in the state may be linked to infested deer farms. So far this year, 23 wild deer in Minnesota have tested positive for CWD.
In Wisconsin, thousands of wild deer have tested positive for CWD. Wisconsin officials have essentially stopped trying to slow the spread of the disease. The Minnesota DNR has conducted intensive hunting and sharpshooting efforts where wild deer have been found with CWD in an effort to reduce deer densities and slow the spread of the disease between wild deer.