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Deer tests positive for chronic wasting disease in Brainerd area

Only one hunter-shot deer in the area tested positive, but the finding will prolong CWD restrictions.

Chronic wasting disease deer buck
A white-tailed buck in the final stages of the always-fatal chronic wasting disease. A single CWD-positive deer was confirmed among deer shot by hunters this fall in the Brainerd area. Contributed / Warden Michael Hopper, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism
Contributed / Warden Michael Hopper, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism

A single positive chronic wasting disease test from a wild deer shot during the hunting season in the Brainerd area will result in three more years of sampling and other disease-management efforts for that area.

In addition, following the confirmation of a CWD-positive deer in late October in Polk County near the North Dakota border, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will expand its deer feeding and attractant ban to include most of northwestern Minnesota.

“These are precautionary but necessary measures,” said Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor for the Minnesota DNR, in a statement. “Continued sampling allows us to monitor the extent of CWD in the Brainerd area. Expanding the feeding ban around Climax and Bemidji eliminates one layer of controllable risk associated with the concentration of wild deer at food placed by humans.”

One of the 1,234 deer that hunters harvested thus far this fall in deer permit area 604 tested positive for CWD. The area, which stretches north from Brainerd to Pine River and eastward to Aitkin, was in its final year of planned CWD surveillance and management because the disease had not been detected there since a wild doe tested positive in 2019. That initial discovery in wild deer came after testing in 2016 revealed that a deer farm within permit area 604 was infected with CWD.

“It’s unfortunate but this discovery resets the clock, and CWD management measures will remain in place through at least the fall of 2024,” Carstensen said.

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With nearly 15,000 wild deer in the area tested since 2017 and only two positives found, the DNR is confident CWD is not prevalent or widespread in this area’s wild deer population. But continued testing as well as other efforts to help reduce risks of CWD spread – such as more liberal harvest regulations, carcass movement restrictions and a ban on feeding and attractants – are the best ways to minimize the risk of CWD becoming established in the area.

The state’s deer-feeding ban will expand Dec. 30 to include 44 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. The discovery of a CWD-infected wild deer near Climax along the Minnesota-North Dakota border adds Clearwater, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk and Red Lake counties to the list of counties where deer feeding and the use of attractants such as salt, minerals and urine is not allowed.

Counties already part of the feeding and attractant ban are Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Dakota, Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Hennepin, Houston, Hubbard, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Mower, Olmsted, Ramsey, Rice, Scott, Steele, Todd, Wabasha, Wadena, Washington and Winona.

Detection of CWD on a deer farm in Beltrami County adds Beltrami, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods and Roseau counties to the list of counties where deer feeding is not allowed. Deer feed includes grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, hay and other food that is capable of attracting or enticing deer.

Counties already part of the deer feeding ban are Carlton, Chisago, Douglas, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Pope, and Stearns.

Feeding bans and attractant bans are part of the DNR’s CWD response plan and necessary because feed and attractants often cause deer to concentrate, greatly increasing the risk of deer-to-deer disease transmission.

Meanwhile CWD testing of 4,705 deer in southeastern Minnesota revealed 17 new cases of CWD. All deer that tested positive were harvested in locations near areas where the disease was previously detected. Despite the new discoveries, CWD prevalence in that area continues to be low — less than 1% in both areas where the disease appears to be persisting in the wild deer population.

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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