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Hunt For Chronic Wasting Disease In Deer Underway

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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By Bill Hudson, WCCO-TV

PINE ISLAND, Minn. (WCCO) – Winter’s cold and icy grip has folks in Pine Island looking ahead to spring. But suddenly, it seems the clock has been wound back to November’s deer season. Back to when hunters were harvesting whitetails from the surrounding woods.

“It’s every deer hunter’s nightmare,” said Lee Swanson.

He’s referring to the ongoing concern over the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD is a naturally occurring disease that affects the brains of elk and deer, making them essentially, “waste away.”

Swanson is among the hunters taking part in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources special surveillance hunt. The agency is trying to determine if one deer shot south of Pine Island last November is a sign of a wider outbreak of CWD. Tests on the deer returned positive results in January.

On the opening weekend of the special hunt, Swanson’s party shot four deer just south of town. He expects to go out again this coming weekend to try to fill their unused tags.

The hunt is reserved only for landowners in a 10-mile radius from where the infected deer was taken. Landowners from Rochester to Zumbrota are being allowed up to 10 permits each.

However, any deer killed must first be tested for CWD. Results are returned in three days and, if negative, the hunter is free to get it processed into venison. 

To further minimize spread of the disease, the DNR is implementing a ban on deer feeding in the surrounding counties of Dodge, Olmstead, Goodhue and Wabasha.

“We’re hoping, we’re hoping. If they find more of it, it’s just nothing but bad news for the whole herd,” said Swanson.

The DNR hopes to kill and test up to 900 deer for the disease. That’s roughly 14 percent of the area’s estimated deer population. Still, not all landowners are going to take part.

“I’ve not run into anyone yet who thinks this is a good idea,” said landowner Butch Owens.

Owens said he is a longtime supporter of the DNR and its management of the state’s wildlife. But on this issue he has a different opinion.

Owens said he hasn’t seen proof that killing 900 deer is worth the risk of depleting the herd. He also questions the need to spend $400,000 to do it.

“I’m talking basically from a taxpayer standpoint here. Not so much that I don’t want to see the poor little deer killed, that’s not where I’m coming from. I just question the science behind it,” explained Owens.

Starting Monday, residents of Dodge, Goodhue, Olmsted and Wabasha counties will also be forbidden to feed deer as part of an effort to fight CWD. The ban will continue indefinitely and is meant to reduce deer-to-deer transmission of the disease by reducing the amount of locations where they would concentrate, according to the DNR.

To help answer questions about the plan and the ongoing hunt, the Department of Natural Resources will hold a public meeting on Monday, Feb. 14 at the Pine Island High School cafeteria from 7 to 9 p.m.

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