by CHRIS ROGERS
Earlier this spring, state officials found two more wild deer infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD) near Cedar Valley in Winona County. The new discoveries bring the total number of CWD-positive wild deer found in the Pickwick area up to three. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) experts said the new detections increase the likelihood that an infected deer farm in Cedar Valley was the source of the outbreak and suggest the state might find more CWD in the area.
DNR officials discovered the first infected deer in January, when a hunter shot a buck near Pickwick during a special hunt. The next two were discovered in late February or March by USDA Wildlife Services sharpshooters, who harvested 45 deer and found two with CWD: one in Cedar Valley and one near Homer Ridge. All three infected deer were found within a few miles of each other and within a few miles of a Cedar Valley deer farm that was found to be infected with CWD in 2017. That deer farm reportedly had damaged and sagging fences that could have allowed wild deer to enter the farm’s enclosure and contract the disease from infected captive deer.
Asked what the new detections tell researchers, DNR Wildlife Health Specialist Erik Hildebrand said, “There is definitely something going on there, and it looks like that source of infection is likely that farm. So with this upcoming hunting season this fall, we’ll ask hunters in this area to get deer sampled and provide those samples because that will tell us how prevalent it is in this area and if it is spreading.”
After the first CWD-infected buck was found in Pickwick, DNR officials suspected the deer farm might have been the source of the infection, but the buck could have also wandered to Winona County from infected areas of Fillmore County, meaning it was an isolated incident.
Now that DNR researchers have found two more infected deer near Cedar Valley, do they expect to find more? “Well, I’d hope not,” Hildebrand stated. “But that being said, of the three, two were males and one was a female. So when we find a female positive, that’s kind of an anchor source … That shows: well, that’s a social group when you get an adult female involved.” Female deer are less likely to travel far distances than males are, so finding an infected doe increases the chances of finding more infections nearby. “I hope we don’t, but through our testing this upcoming fall, time will tell,” Hildebrand stated.
Hildebrand urged hunters, landowners, and ordinary citizens to help the DNR monitor the disease. “If you harvest a deer, I can’t stress enough, please get the deer sampled because that’s going to help us understand the extent of this disease,” he urged hunters. The DNR will host local CWD sampling stations this fall where hunters can take harvested deer to have their lymph nodes removed and tested for CWD. The procedure only takes a couple minutes.
“A lot of this area is private land, so that’s another piece of the puzzle,” Hildebrand said of the Cedar Valley area. Landowners can help by either hunting themselves or allowing people to hunt on their land and submitting harvested deer for sampling, he explained. Landowners with crop depredation issues may also contact their local DNR wildlife office by calling 507-206-2859 to ask about special hunting permits.
Even citizens who do not hunt or own land can help by reporting any sick deer they see to the DNR at 507-206-2862.