by CHRIS ROGERS
Across Southeast Minnesota this fall, Minnesota hunters brought hundreds of deer carcasses to sampling stations to be tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD), a tenacious and mysterious disease that is always fatal in deer. The results show that an outbreak of CWD just outside Lanesboro and Preston is spreading, but so far, no CWD has been detected in wild deer in Winona County.
For the last few years, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been tracking the outbreak of CWD northeast of Preston. Across Southeast Minnesota, hunters were required to submit all harvested deer for sampling on select dates during this hunting season. The results so far: the state found 10 new CWD-positive deer and one suspected CWD-positive deer this year. (See map.)
“For sure, it’s showing persistent infection around that Preston area,” DNR Wildlife Research Manager Lou Cornicelli said of the results. Additionally, there were CWD-positive deer found further afield than in previous years, meaning that infected deer are traveling and potentially spreading the disease, Cornicelli stated.
That is not good, but it could be much worse. With major outbreaks in neighboring Wisconsin and Iowa, DNR officials have said that they believe the eventual spread of CWD in Minnesota is inevitable. The DNR is trying to contain the disease for as long as possible, but the long-term outlook is troubling. Earlier this year and in late 2017, the DNR got two new pieces of information that made the prospects for CWD spreading to Winona County seem more grim.
First, captive deer at a deer farm in Winona County were found to be infected with CWD in late 2017. Because the fences at the farm had reportedly not been maintained, DNR officials feared that wild deer might have entered the infected farm, contracted CWD, and gone on to spread it to other wild deer in Winona County. In a bit of fortunate news, the initial results from this hunting season did not find any evidence that actually happened. None of the wild deer tested so far in Winona County were CWD-positive. There are more samples yet to be tested from the recent 3B late-season hunt, and Cornicelli is anxiously awaiting those results. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that we dodged a bullet on that facility,” he said of the infected farm.
The second piece of information the DNR got this year that made the spread of CWD to Winona County seem likely was a study of deer movement. DNR scientists put GPS tags on scores of deer in Southeast Minnesota and have been watching where and how far they go. That study is still ongoing, but in initial results earlier this year, the DNR found that one deer traveled 75 miles from Preston to outside Cannon Falls. By comparison, it is only around 10 miles from the center of the Preston CWD outbreak to the Winona County line. While that deer may have been an outlier, other results suggest that at least some deer travel long distances. Because deer can be infected with CWD and contagious for years before suffering symptoms, DNR officials are concerned about the potential for the disease to spread simply from deer walking to new locations. Has Winona County dodged the bullet on that threat, as well? “I’ll let you know after the [remaining] samples come back,” Cornicelli stated, referring to samples from the 3B season. “Everything could change in a day,” he added.
The Wisconsin DNR also conducted CWD sampling during this fall’s hunting season. Wisconsin DNR officials said they are still waiting for the test results. CWD has not yet been found in wild deer in Buffalo and Trempealeau counties, but just a few miles north of Trempealeau County, an Eau Claire County deer was found with the disease.
Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.