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Poll: Hunters are worried about chronic wasting disease

October 7, 2002 Minnesota Public Radio by Erin Galbally
New poll results indicate hunter turnout will take a serious hit if chronic wasting disease is discovered in Minnesota's wild deer population. Even without a confirmed case the numbers are likely to go down, although veteran deer hunters expect to be out in force this year. Poll figures also predict a significant drop in people willing to eat venison. (See complete poll results.)

The majority of poll respondents say they are concerned about chronic wasting disease and its potential presence in Minnesota.

Eleven hundred people responded to the Mason-Dixon Research Poll commissioned by Minnesota Public Radio, St Paul Pioneer Press and the Duluth News Tribune. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents say they have hunted deer in Minnesota at least once in the last 3 years. Close to a quarter of that group say they will not hunt this year. Still that leaves an overwhelming majority of hunter's say they will partake what for many is an annual tradition.

Charlie Mark of Bellingham fits into that category. He'll participate in the upcoming gun season as long as the disease is not discovered in the wild deer population.

"Oh, if it's found around here, close to where I am at or even 150-200 miles away, I may not hunt," worries Mark. "It's kind of one of those risks I don't want to take. I hate to see people stop hunting because of there's quite a deer population and if we lose the hunters we're going to have quite a deer population."

Approximately 30 percent of hunters polled expressed similar concern and say they will not hunt if the disease is found in Minnesota's wild deer.

Mark Johnson is the executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. He says many hunters are confused about whether or not it's safe to hunt. As a result he believes it's going to be hard to predict how many people will take the field this year.

"People are changing their minds on an almost day-to-day basis as far as what I hear right now," Johnson says. "It's all based on information. The more information they have out there the more opportunity to process the information in a rational manner and then make educated decisions. The less information they have, the more people are willing to jump the gun or just have knee jerk reactions."

The poll also asked hunters how likely they are to test deer they take for CWD. Again the numbers depend on whether there is a confirmed case of the disease in Minnesota. At present only 27 percent plan to test. That will jump to 62 percent if cwd is confirmed. Another significant factor could be the cost of testing. Only 7 percent of hunters polled say they'll pay more than $25 for a test. At present tests are expected to cost than double that.

Jannis Eggebaatteen of Grand Rapids doesn't hunt but her father and sons do. She hasn't eaten venison in the past several years and says she isn't likely to this year either.

"Until they can find out just how wide spread this wasting disease is and if its going to effect humans," says Eggebaatteen.

Scientists are still researching how CWD spreads between deer and whether it could spread to humans. However, 38 percent of total poll respondents say won't order venison in Minnesota restaurants this year. Of those who say they will eat venison half say they'll stop is the disease is found in the state's wild deer herd.

Meanwhile preparations for this years hunting season are continuing as usual. So far DNR permit sales look little different from last year. And towns like Grand Rapids that are used to seeing plenty of hunter traffic during deer season, are preparing for businesses as usual.

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