Concerns over the impact of chronic wasting disease (CWD) spreading from farmed deer to Minnesota's treasured 1-million-animal wild whitetail herd--which generates "more than $500 million annually in economic activity tied to deer hunting"-- has lead to the introduction of HF1948, which would impose a moratorium on new deer farms until January 1, 2020.
While the headline at the Duluth News Tribune might make the casual reader think deer farms are now spas for captive whitetails, reading down column turns up this data:
Recap of current CWD investigations of farmed deer in Minnesota:
• Merrifield (Crow Wing County): Herd of origin for the current CWD investigation. Positive CWD test from two white-tailed deer. Remains under quarantine.
• Dassel (Meeker County): Positive CWD test from one white-tailed deer. Remains under quarantine.
• Freeport (Stearns County): No CWD tests conducted. Remains under quarantine.
• Brainerd (Crow Wing County): Negative CWD test from four white-tailed deer. Released from quarantine.
• Mountain Iron (St. Louis County): Negative CWD test from one white-tailed deer. Released from quarantine.
The new article--and the bill--come on the hooves of investigative reporter Tony Kennedy articles in the Star Tribune, including Tensions over deer farming surface in Minnesota's double outbreak of CWD and National alliance calls for a review of Minnesota's handling of deer farms.
Kennedy reports in the first article:
A painstaking and high-stakes fight to stop a deadly outbreak of chronic wasting disease in wild deer in southeastern Minnesota has expanded to include faraway cases on commercial deer farms.
The infections in captive deer — potentially cascading to multiple farms — have prompted state quarantines on five private deer herds and renewed tensions between the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Animal Health, which regulates the business of deer and elk bred as livestock for fenced-in trophy hunts and other purposes.
The double outbreak has both agencies scrambling to halt the mad-cow-like disease from spreading and becoming intractable, as it has in Wisconsin and other states. As recently as Thanksgiving, Minnesota was thought to be CWD-free.
At risk is the state’s 1-million-animal deer herd, more than $500 million annually in economic activity tied to deer hunting and the state’s legacy of family and friends bonding over whitetails in the fall.
“It’s tremendously important to Minnesota to get this right,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said last week while he waited for a Board of Animal Health CWD update. . . .
Minnesota is home to 460 deer and elk farms that generate rural jobs and economic activity last measured in 2011 at $17.6 million a year. Dr. Paul Anderson, a veterinarian and assistant director at the Board of Animal Health, said the so-called “farmed cervidae” industry is keenly focused on CWD prevention and mindful that transmission of the disease can travel in or out of the mandatory 8-foot-high fences that enclose private herds.
“The DNR’s task is to deal with the wild deer and our task is to deal with the people who farm them,” Anderson said. “We’re working on this thing together as a team.”
But while Anderson speaks highly of the cooperation between the two agencies, two DNR officials on the front lines of CWD prevention say they have been frustrated by untimely and incomplete information sharing by Animal Health staff. They also see coziness in the relationship between deer farmers and the board, made up of three livestock producers and two veterinarians appointed by the governor.
“I struggle with the closeness of the regulators and the industry,” said Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s leading CWD tactician and top big game researcher. “They are closer to their stakeholders than we are to ours.”
The DNR is particularly frustrated, agency e-mails show, about farmed deer escaping into the wild. The agency is also concerned the Board of Animal Health might change its CWD-related deer farm regulations, possibly compounding the threat to wild deer. . . .
Read the entire article at the Strib. Later in February, Kennedy reported in National alliance calls for a review of Minnesota's handling of deer farms:
The National Deer Alliance, an advocacy group for wild deer made up of public and private interests, is calling on Minnesota's Legislative Audit Commission to review deer farm oversight by the state Board of Animal Health.
Federal Premium Conservation Director Ryan Bronson, a board member at National Deer Alliance, said Friday that the organization is concerned about the possible spread of chronic wasting disease from captive deer in Minnesota to the state's wild herd. The resource of more than 1 million free-ranging whitetails generates annual economic activity of more than $500 million.
The alliance suspects that the Board of Animal Health is too cozy with the farmed deer industry to effectively regulate it, Bronson said. The state is home to about 460 deer and elk farms, including herds of penned animals sold for private shooting.
"If the agency isn't protecting the interests of all Minnesotans — and it's not just hunters — that's troubling,'' Bronson said.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, who is vice chair of the Legislative Audit Commission, said he received the audit request and forwarded it to Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles. Nobles could decide on his own to investigate, or the request will become a potential topic for consideration by the commission, Hansen said.
Hansen said the audit request didn't come with a specific allegation of wrongdoing, but he supports an independent evaluation of the commission based on his belief that the Board of Animal Health is an example of "regulatory capture'' by the livestock industry. . . .
Hansen, himself a deer hunter on his farm in Southeastern Minnesota near Harmony, is the chief author of the bill. International Falls DFLer Rob Ecklund, Hermantown DFLer Mary Murphy, and Minneapolis Democrats Jean Wagenius and Diane Loeffler, are co-authors.
Maybe there's more than the ability to wear blaze pink while hunting with firearms that concerns women in the Minnesota House who care about the state's deer hunting heritage.
Photo: A whitetail deer with CWD. While the prion disease doesn't affect humans, it's awful for deer.
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