5000 Hunter Harvested Deer To Be Tested

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced plans today to test 5,000 hunter-harvested deer this fall for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a fatal brain disease in elk, white-tailed deer and mule deer. Last year the DNR tested 45 hunter-harvested deer in the state. None were found positive for CWD.

This fall's tests will supplement the DNR's ongoing testing, which targets "suspect" deer that are found sick or displaying symptoms consistent with CWD. The DNR has tested approximately 34 "suspect" deer in more than a year of monitoring. So far, none have tested positive for CWD.

Samples of hunter-harvested deer will be collected by wildlife officials, including the 1854 Authority and the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation, at selected registration stations across Minnesota. Samples will be collected from deer 1-year-old or older in 14 of Minnesota's 130 hunting permit areas. Submission of samples by hunters will be voluntary.

If CWD is detected, Minnesota will aggressively attempt to control and manage the disease, likely involving intensive culling and special hunting seasons as Wisconsin and Nebraska have used after they found the disease.

The testing system is designed to detect CWD with 95 percent accuracy if just 1 percent of the deer herd in a targeted area is infected with the disease. However, large-scale testing will not provide immediate answers, according to DNR Wildlife Research Manager Mike DonCarlos.

"Even if we don't find it this year, we won't be able to say that CWD isn't out there somewhere," DonCarlos said. "This is just the beginning of an effort that will require long-term vigilance."

Permit areas selected for hunter-harvested testing were chosen based on their geographic location in Minnesota as well as several other factors, including size and deer population.

"The fact that we're testing in a specific area should not be considered an indication that CWD is suspected of being present there," DonCarlos said. "We've designed the most efficient method we could for finding the disease on a statewide basis as quickly and accurately as possible. Our number one need is to find the disease if it's out there."

Plans to deal with CWD in Minnesota have been in the works for several years. CWD was first discovered in the late 1960s at research facilities in Colorado and Wyoming. It was detected in wildlife populations in the 1980s. The disease had not been detected outside that area until a few years ago. Minnesota Wildlife Division officials stepped up efforts to detect the disease after CWD was discovered in Wisconsin last February. In addition to Colorado and Wyoming, CWD has now been detected in wild or captive animals in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, Wisconsin, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The disease has never been detected in Minnesota.

The sampling process involves making a small incision at the base of the deer's skull to remove a sample of the brain stem. That sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing. Currently, there is no approved live-animal test for CWD. Results of individual tests will be made available to hunters who were asked to submit a sample. Overall test results will be announced when the tests are complete.

Not all hunters in the targeted areas will be asked to submit their deer for testing. The sampling must be done systematically, so the DNR will not accept unsolicited samples from hunters.

Because the tests are lengthy and there are a limited number of USDA-certified laboratories, it is unlikely that private testing will be available for hunters who would like to have their deer tested. DNR staff, however, continue to explore options for private testing.

The test detects prions -- an abnormal protein that scientists believe causes CWD. Because CWD can take two to three years to incubate, the tests cannot be used to tell whether an animal has been recently infected.

"If an animal tests positive, we will know with certainty that is has CWD," DonCarlos said. "However, just because a deer tests negative doesn't mean that it hasn?t been recently infected."

DonCarlos said the DNR is preparing plans in cooperation with the Minnesota departments of Health, Agriculture, Board of Animal Health and the University of Minnesota in the event that CWD is discovered in Minnesota.

"We would attempt to identify the extent of the infection as quickly as possible and then drastically reduce the deer population in areas where the disease has been detected to stop its spread."

For now, however, DonCarlos said it is important to remember that the disease has not been found in Minnesota. "We've designed the best possible method for detecting it based on the experience of other states dealing with this disease."

Hunters who take the following precautions should be able to safely eat deer or elk taken this season, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Hunters should follow these recommendations:

  • do not consume meat from any deer looks or acts ill
  • do not eat the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of any deer
  • field dress the animal properly --; minimize handling of brain or spinal tissues, wear sturdy rubber gloves when field dressing, and wash hands and instruments after field dressing is complete.

Animals infected with CWD typically show one or more of the following clinical signs, which may be readily apparent:

  • starvation and dehydration
  • excessive salivation
  • stumbling weakness, loss of coordination or tremors
  • drooping head or ears
  • excessively rough or dull coat
  • loss of fear of humans

Hunters who notice a deer that is showing any of the above signs should not shoot the deer. Instead, they should report the sighting to their local DNR Wildlife Division office. DNR personnel will attempt to locate the animal and have it tested for CWD.