Chronic wasting disease has taken a toll on the state’s deer and efforts to reduce it face major obstacles.
That’s why proposals in the Legislature to crack down on private deer farms, which are breeding grounds for CWD, should be supported.
The disease is fatal in deer and so far there are no cures for it. While there have been no known cases of humans becoming sick from eating venison from a diseased deer, there are obvious concerns of potential animal-to-human transmission.
CWD is especially nasty because it can live for so long in nature. If scavengers eat a deer that dies of CWD their feces — which could be spread miles away — will contain the disease and it will be absorbed into grass and plants the next year and for years beyond. When deer eat those infected plants, they can get the disease.
The disease also spreads quickly when deer are in close contact with an infected deer. That’s why whole herds in a deer farm can quickly get CWD. And wild deer often venture to the fences of deer farms and can come into contact with an infected deer. Any infected deer that escape from a deer farm can also spread it into the wild herd.
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn introduced a bill recently to require 10-foot-high double fencing around commercial deer and elk farms to prevent infected animals from spreading the disease to wild deer. The bill will certainly face opposition from those in the private deer farm industry.
A January story in Outdoor Life detailed how lax enforcement among many deer farms in Minnesota has been. One deer farm in southeast Minnesota had inadequate fencing that allowed deer to escape, yet the farm passed inspections by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, which is responsible for regulating the farms. The entire deer farm herd contracted CWD and had to be killed, according to Outdoor Life.
Meanwhile the Department of Natural Resources has tried hard to contain CWD by setting up mandatory testing stations in different areas of the state where deer hunters have to bring deer in so a sample can be taken. The DNR has also been aggressive by allowing intensive hunts in areas where the disease has been found.
CWD not only jeopardizes the huge deer hunting industry in the state, but taxpayers must fund the high costs of trying to monitor and slow the disease in the state’s deer herd.
So far Minnesota has confirmed CWD in more than 30 wild deer, but undoubtedly the numbers are higher.
Still, the state is in a much better position than Wisconsin, where thousands of cases have been reported.
Putting more restrictions on those who want to raise deer privately is a necessary step in helping Minnesota keep a lid on the brain-wasting disease. The slow reaction in Wisconsin shows what can easily happen if the effort is not taken seriously.