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Concerns about disease still high

March 31, 2002 Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) by Doug Smith
The threat of chronic wasting disease to deer herds continues to be a major concern for wildlife managers in Minnesota and elsewhere. Here's a roundup of some of the latest developments:

- Wisconsin deer shoot: Wisconsin officials continued killing deer for testing last week in a south-central area west of Madison where three deer were found with chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The Wisconsin DNR wants to test 500 deer from a 415-square-mile area to determine how widespread the disease is. The only way to test the deer is to kill them and examine their brains. Some 325 deer have been killed thus far. Last week, officials formed 10 teams of state sharpshooters to help landowners kill the additional 175 deer needed for the study.

The deer collection was ordered after three whitetail bucks shot last November near Mount Horeb were found to have chronic wasting disease. The state announced the test results Feb. 28, and the special shoot began March 14. It was the first time the disease was found in wild deer east of the Mississippi River.

Chronic wasting disease attacks the brains of deer and elk, causing the animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions and die. The deer shooting likely will end by April 10, when spring turkey hunting begins. The DNR hasn't received results of lab tests for any of the sampled deer.

- MDHA: tap feeding fund: As reported in last Wednesday's Star Tribune, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association is suggesting that the state tap the $1.4 million emergency deer feeding account to fund more CWD testing of deer. (See www.startribune.com/outdoors). That would take special legislation next session.

While the association still supports the concept of emergency winter feeding during severe winters, it could change that position if CWD is found in Minnesota deer. That is because of the concern that feeding deer concentrates them in unnatural densities, which wildlife officials say can help spread disease.

The deer hunters association already has recommended that those who feed deer recreationally stop the practice. Meanwhile, the Minnesota DNR intends to expand it's CWD testing of wild deer this year and officials are closely watching the Wisconsin situation.

- South Dakota finds no more CWD: South Dakota officials got some good news last week: Test results on 90 deer recently collected in southwestern South Dakota resulted in no additional findings of chronic wasting disease in that area.

The deer were collected for testing in early March after some of the deer taken by Nebraska Game and Parks personnel in northwestern Nebraska tested positive for the disease. The follow-up testing in South Dakota was done to determine if CWD existed in free-roaming deer herds in southern Fall River County.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks killed 67 mule deer and 23 white-tailed deer, and sent tissue samples to a testing lab. Meanwhile, Nebraska Game and Parks personnel collected 56 mule deer and 36 white-tailed deer on their side of the border. Test results on these deer are not yet available.

South Dakota reported its first case of CWD in a free-roaming herd last winter; a deer taken by a hunter tested positive for the disease. The discovery resulted in another collection effort in mid-March when 24 mule deer and 28 whitetail deer were taken within a 5-mile radius around the town of Oral, near where the positive CWD deer was killed. Test results haven't been received.

So far, a total of 920 deer and 519 elk taken by hunters in South Dakota since 1997, including 335 deer and 166 elk in 2001, have been tested for CWD.

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