The Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee heard this week from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal brain disease found in the cervid family: deer, moose, and elk. CWD is a highly contagious neurological disease that persists in the environment and can be spread within a short time after exposure, although symptoms may take up to three years to show up.
Caused by mutated proteins called prions, CWD can be spread not only by infected live deer, but by contaminated body fluids and parts from deer that are long dead. Until the 2018 deer hunting season there were 17 confirmed cases of CWD found in Minnesota’s wild deer herd. To date, the DNR has found 36 CWD-positive deer in Minnesota, with 35 of those found in the southeast surveillance zone in Houston, Winona, and Fillmore Counties. Nationwide, CWD is confirmed in 25 states and two provinces, with parts of southern Wisconsin indicating that more than 50% of wild deer are infected with CWD.
Minnesota wildlife officials are working hard to slow the spread of CWD among wild deer in the state’s southeastern counties, trying to keep CWD confined to a few captive deer farms and relatively small areas of wild deer habitat. Special landowner hunts were held in December and early January, and a special hunt will be held January 25 and February 1 in portions of Winona and Houston counties to kill and test more deer.
To date, an estimated $1.3 million has been spent from the DNR’s Game and Fish funds last year on surveillance and prohibitions on carcass transportation, feeding, and other activities in an effort to control the spread of the disease. Efforts are focused on counties in central and southeast Minnesota.