The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association is seeking to limit deer farming in an effort to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in the general deer population. The hunting and conservation advocacy group hopes to completely end deer farming in order to prevent disease transmission.
To start, the association is seeking to ban the transportation of farmed deer within the state along with banning the importation of newly farmed deer from other states. They would allow an exemption for Minnesota deer being transported for slaughter.
In addition, the organization would like lawmakers to enact a moratorium on new deer farm licenses, and they hope to bring about a state-funded deer “buyout” of all farmed deer, ending all deer farming in the state. Both the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, are in favor of restricting the transportation of farmed deer in the state.
“We’re really past the point of taking incremental measures now, like double fencing or restricting movement of farmed deer,” said the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association’s Craig Engwall. “For the sake of the state’s population of wild deer, and our tradition of deer hunting, we need to eliminate deer farms entirely.”
The association’s severe stance on ending deer farming comes at the end of the 2021 legislative session, where the lawmakers did nothing to address the spread of chronic wasting disease in the state. Engwall hopes to spur legislators into action in the 2022 session.
According to the report, the association is taking action following a recent illegal dumping incident, when a deer farm or deer farms dumped the carcasses of infected deer in Minnesota’s Beltrami County.
“This is a serious disease that poses a growing threat to Minnesota’s wild deer, and our actions must reflect that,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen. “The DNR is committed to proactively addressing CWD and doing everything we can to protect Minnesota’s white-tailed deer as part of our natural heritage. The CWD detections at the Beltrami County farm, its connections to other farms in the state and the additional contamination outside of the farm, pose a risk to wild deer that requires emergency action.”
Deer farmers are obviously not in favor of future legislation reducing or eliminating deer farming, arguing that deer farming is not the sole source of chronic wasting disease and that the prion disease spreads naturally in the wild.
“Last week, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) confirmed that a total of 13 deer tested positive for the fatal deer disease in a herd of 55 deer. The initial detection was confirmed on April 7, 2021,” reports the DNR. “Additional testing of the depopulated herd confirmed that 12 additional deer had the disease. Deer remains from the farm were also discovered on adjacent, county-managed land; testing conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Prion Research and Outreach indicated the presence of CWD-causing prions in at least one of the bones found there.”
Since 2002, DNR biologists have found 115 cases of CWD in the wild, and are currently quarantining nine herds due to exposure to the disease. The DNR is asking officials and deer farms to construct additional fencing to help prevent interaction between farmed deer and wild animals.
“The Beltrami County situation has galvanized the support of deer hunters and others interested in our wild deer herd, and the time has come to take action,’’ Engwall said. “We simply can’t afford to wait any longer as the threat to the wild deer herd is too great.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to keep other animals from being exposed to those prions,’’ said Craig Olfelt, Fish and Wildlife Division director of the Minnesota DNR.
Chronic wasting disease is similar to mad cow disease as well as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. It was first discovered in Colorado in the 1960s but has been found across North America as well as North Atlantic nations. While it has not been shown to be transmissible to humans, it’s still highly discouraged to eat infected deer meat or any products of infected animals.