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Feb. 14 public meeting to focus on CWD control in Minnesota

From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

-- Those interested in learning more about efforts to manage Chronic Wasting Disease in southeastern Minnesota can attend a public input meeting Feb. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Pine Island High School cafeteria.

DNR staff will present current CWD information and plans for winter deer surveillance. A panel of experts from the DNR, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association will answer questions.

The DNR will outline what has been learned since the disease was discovered in January.CWD is a fatal brain disease that affects deer, elk and moose, but not cattle or humans. The disease was confirmed in Minnesota's first wild deer Jan. 25. An archer harvested that deer near Pine Island in November 2010.

The DNR has been actively on the lookout for CWD since 2002, when the disease was first found in a domestic elk farm in central Minnesota.

The agency has been conducting surveillance for the disease because an important management strategy is early detection. It increased its southeastern Minnesota wild deer CWD surveillance efforts in fall 2009 after tests in January 2009 determined that a captive elk on a farm near Pine Island was infected with CWD. The elk farm was depopulated in fall of 2009 and a total of four CWD positive captive elk were found. Heightened wild deer surveillance efforts continued in 2010, with one CWD-positive deer detected.

Landowner permits and a deer feeding ban will be among the next steps taken to implement the CWD incident response plan.

Landowners who obtain shooting permits from the DNR will be authorized to take deer in a portion of southeastern Minnesota within roughly 10 miles of where a CWD positive wild deer was found, as part of the agency's efforts to sample wild deer in the Pine Island area for CWD.

Landowners who accept shooting permits will be allowed to authorize additional shooters. All harvested deer will be tested for CWD.

"Rather than having a traditional special hunt, we are working through local landowners to issue permits so they can assist with the sampling effort," said Lou Cornicelli, big game program coordinator and CWD incident commander. "All the land in the surveillance area is private land that cannot be hunted without permission."

Carcasses of deer taken can be retained by the landowner or designated shooters, or surrendered to DNR for donation to individuals. CWD test results are expected to be available within three business days so that people holding carcasses can make decisions on processing and consumption.

DNR staff has stated contacting landowners in the CWD surveillance area, and prioritizing contacts based on deer numbers and proximity to the location where the infected deer was harvested.

The deer population estimate based on the aerial survey has been completed. The DNR estimates there are 6,500 deer within a 10-mile radius around the positive deer. Of those 6,500 deer, 1,900 were seen within the core area, which is roughly a 5-mile radius around the positive deer.

Some of the highest deer numbers were observed in the area the positive deer was taken. Based on these numbers, DNR has calculated a surveillance goal of 900 deer, of which 500 should be taken from the core area.

The possibility of using U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters during the sampling effort also is being considered, but no specific plan is in place.

"Our hope is that we can get the majority of the needed sample with landowner shooting," Cornicelli said. "There may be cases where a landowner prefers sharpshooters, or we need to increase sample size in certain areas beyond what we can get through landowner permits.

"Our goal is to determine the level of infection in the local deer population and to remove additional potentially infected animals," he said.

In addition to the upcoming sampling effort, a deer feeding ban covering Dodge, Goodhue, Olmsted and Wabasha counties will be in place later this month. The feeding ban includes a wider area because the potential extent of the CWD infection is not known and one of the most probable mechanisms for CWD spread among deer is over a food source that concentrates animals.

"One simple step that anyone placing food out for wildlife can do to help prevent the spread of disease is to stop feeding deer," Cornicelli said.

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