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Morken: Time to pay attention to CWD around Alexandria

Eric Morken

One of the primary goals of the Department of Natural Resources from the first-ever deer management plan that came out this year was to improve communication between DNR staff and the hunting community.

Hunters have said that's what they want. I attended a public meeting that was hosted during the planning stages of the management plan, and those who came were very vocal about that. Give us surveys, give us tools through today's technology that can help get accurate numbers of wildlife to help in management strategies, they said.

Now, with the DNR taking steps to grant those requests, I hope hunters will take advantage. Meetings were held at DNR offices all around the state early this fall to give people an opportunity to talk about their local deer herds. They were sparsely attended.

A story written by John Myers from the Duluth News Tribune noted that as of Sept. 9 there were some meetings that went completely unattended. Locally, a meeting at the Glenwood DNR building drew just seven hunters. I myself am guilty of not being able to attend after having to watch my two young daughters when my wife was unable to get out of work early.

Maybe low participation numbers means people feel like they won't be listened to no matter what they bring up. Maybe hunters are happy in this area and don't have much to complain about.

"We're having a more liberal season statewide than we had a year ago," Glenwood DNR wildlife manager Kevin Kotts said. "We had four, five relatively mild winters, so deer numbers have built up from where they were even two years ago. Zone 213 went from managed to intensive this year because we believe there are more deer out there."

Size structure and doe-to-buck ratios in the herd get brought up at every one of these meetings. Overall numbers, though, seem to drive hunter participation overall.

Now that numbers are up across much of Minnesota, I hope hunters do not get complacent, especially on the disease front.

When I called Kotts to talk about the deer meeting, I was happy to hear that Chronic Wasting Disease was a talking point for those who attended. So far, there has been no positive CWD tests in areas directly around Alexandria in the wild herd. It's paramount, and partly on us as hunters, to make sure we try to keep it that way.

"I think they're pretty aware. I wouldn't say they're worried," Kotts said of CWD being on the minds of hunters locally. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of fear out there, but we had pretty high compliance when the CWD testing was mandatory for 277 in Glenwood last year. Out of 100-and-some samples we took, we had maybe one guy who was unhappy that he had to bring his deer in. Pretty much everyone was interested."

Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurological disease that is always fatal affecting deer and other members of the cervidae family. It is believed to be caused by prions, which are abnormal proteins that self-replicate within an infected animal. Prions are highly resistant to disinfectants, heat or freezing, which means they can live on the landscape for long periods of time.

CWD can be spread directly from animal to animal and indirectly through the environment. Prions are shed through saliva, urine, blood, feces and antler velvet. Carcass parts from a dead infected deer can serve as a source of further infection to other deer.

That's why so many states are enforcing strict laws prohibiting the movement of deer, elk, moose and caribou across state borders and out of CWD-positive zones within the state. It's important to remember that no one can bring whole carcasses, including antlers with brain tissue still attached, that is shot out of Minnesota. Meat needs to be deboned if you process your own meat, or brought to a locker in the state it was shot in.

So far, CWD positive tests in Minnesota's wild deer herd have been limited to the southeastern portion of the state. Hunters cannot transfer adult deer (more than 1-year-old) outside of CWD Management Zone 603 until a "not-detected" test result has been reported from a sampling of that deer.

"Any time there is a change, we do frustrate some people, but we're trying to protect the deer herd too," Kotts said of the rules in place. "That's ultimately what we need to do."

A healthy herd is vital to the future of hunting. As vital as any other part of the equation.

That's why I hope hunters continue to take a disease like CWD seriously and abide by these laws in place.

The response of almost every wildlife agency when confronted with CWD in the wild herd is to drive down the deer numbers in that area to limit the spread.

That brings us back to overall deer numbers - the subject that gets every hunter's attention. Let's be proactive so we don't have to be reactive in trying to limit the damage done from a disease that is becoming more of a problem around the whitetail world.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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