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Sharpshooters cull 54 deer in Grand Rapids; 1 suspected of carrying chronic wasting disease

Other deer tested so far have not carried the always fatal disease after an initial case in March.

two city deer
Two urban deer. The Minnesota DNR said Monday that sharpshooters have culled 54 deer in Grand Rapids in recent weeks, with one suspected of carrying chronic wasting disease.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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GRAND RAPIDS — Federal sharpshooters working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shot 54 deer in the city in recent weeks in an effort to test the animals for chronic wasting disease, with one of the culled deer now suspected of carrying the always fatal disease.

Another six deer that were victims of deer-vehicle collisions also were tested for CWD. So far, 59 of the 60 deer have tested negative, a DNR official said Monday.

Final test results from the single suspected case are expected any day.

There are 360 deer farms in Wisconsin and 339 in Minnesota, and many Northlanders have no idea what happens at them.

The culling effort by staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services division started in late March after a single doe found dead from a vehicle collision was submitted for CWD testing and tested positive, the first wild deer in Northeastern Minnesota known to carry it.

The suspected-positive CWD deer from the culling effort was shot less than a mile from where the earlier positive deer was found. All of the deer were shot in a 1-square-mile area of the city near where the positive test was discovered — just south of the downtown and west of Minnesota Highway 169 in a highly developed area — indicating a very high deer population in the area, according to Cheri Zeppelin, the DNR’s regional information officer.


The culling ended April 8, Zeppelin said. Meat from the deer that tested negative was distributed to people in the Grand Rapids community, Zeppelin noted, with 20 deer going to landowners providing access for the culling effort and 32 deer going to individuals or families on the state’s "Share the Harvest" list.

Because tissue samples must be harvested to test for CWD, the deer are being killed to determine if the disease has spread to other deer in the immediate area. Selective culling of deer could also, if the disease is present, slow the spread by reducing deer densities in the area.

All of the 60 deer tested, and the original CWD-positive deer, have come from Deer Management Area 179 in and around the city. The DNR will continue to seek out and test other deer killed by vehicle collisions in and around Grand Rapids.

CWD affects deer, elk and moose and is caused by prions, which are abnormal proteins that self-replicate within an infected animal, eventually causing it to become disoriented, lethargic and weak before death. Prions are highly resistant to disinfectants, heat or freezing and can persist for years in soil. There are no vaccines or treatments for CWD, but scientists, including at the University of Minnesota, are developing a test that can be conducted on live animals.

After little action by the state Legislature, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association says repeated chronic wasting disease outbreaks on deer farms threaten the future of hunting.

It remains unclear if the disease moved into the area by being spread between wild animals or if it may have come from infected animals that were moved by humans — infected live deer moved between deer farms or infected deer carcasses or trophy deer heads that are brought into the city by hunters.

Zeppelin said it’s likely a city deer hunt will be held again in Grand Rapids this fall with a liberal, five-deer limit for hunters who get a permit for the area. Those deer will also be tested for CWD. The city hunt has been held annually since 2013.

Grand Rapids residents can find out more about the culling effort by calling the DNR’s Grand Rapids Area Wildlife office at 218-328-8954 or emailing grandrapids.wildlife@state.mn.us .

A deer feeding ban already is in place for Itasca County and a deer scent ban will be imposed for the 2022 hunting seasons. Hunters who harvest a deer near Grand Rapids will be required to have a sample from their deer tested for CWD, at no cost, by the DNR.

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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