LANESBORO, Minn. (WCCO) — Chronic Wasting Disease is having a devastating effect on Wisconsin’s whitetail deer herd. Eighteen of the state’s counties have deer which test positive for the deadly brain disorder.
An infected animal is a horrifying thing to watch. They can be seen drooling and shaking and have difficulty walking. CWD destroys the nervous systems of cervids like elk, deer and moose.
CWD, as the name implies, causes the animals waste away into bony and feeble creatures.
Just as startling, consider that in Wisconsin’s hardest hit areas, 40 percent of the deer now test positive for the deadly prion.
That’s why Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources is working feverishly to prevent the same outcome here. But in 2016, the first confirmed cases were discovered in deer carcasses in Fillmore County, more specifically in deer management area 603.
So far, 17 deer have tested positive for the CWD.
But to see the latest DNR response you need go no further than the Rushford airport.
The tiny airstrip in Fillmore County is on the front line of the state’s battle to contain Chronic Wasting Disease.
DNR biologists hope the use of radio collars will reveal important clues as to how whitetail deer move around. The tracking devices may show researchers the deer’s preferred habitat and movements.
That specific location data may help the agency refine its plan to better contain and eliminate the prion carrying animals.
“It’s another component of our overall response,” says the DNR’s Wildlife Resource Manager, Lou Cornicelli.
Cornicelli adds that the study was attempting to capture and collar 115 yearling deer. As of Friday, the final day of the week-long effort, a crew with Hells Canyon Helicopter successfully netted 107 deer.
The Idaho company specializes in netting big game animals for biological research.
When a deer is spotted, the chopper swoops down low to allow an operator of a cannon net to contain the deer. Then the chopper quickly sets down to allow the crew to collar, ear tag and take blood samples.
“Whitetail deer biology is well described and we know that males at about 14, 15 months start to really move and set up new locations and new home ranges,” Cornicelli said.
The chopper is working a 350 square mile area of Fillmore County, targeting wooded areas on both public and private lands, where owners have given the DNR permission.
Area 603 is the state’s CWD hotspot, stretching from Preston to Rushford.
“We’re really concerned about the long-term effects of this disease,” added Cornicelli, who is heading up the two-year study.
Cornicelli hopes what’s learned in the tracking study will help contain the disease, keeping Minnesota’s whitetails healthy for years to come.
“If we don’t respond to the disease and do what we can to minimize its spread or eliminate it then we’re going to look like Wisconsin in the future,” Cornicelli explained.
Results from the study will give the DNR a predictive deer movement map, showing them where to concentrate their future disease surveillance efforts.