Risk of CWD reaching northern Minnesota woods is low

BEMIDJI, Minn. - While the southeastern part of the state remains on high alert for chronic wasting disease in wildlife, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources doesn't see a high risk for it in the Northwoods region.Lou Cornicelli, DNR Wil...
A tracking collar allows the research team to study movements as deer travel. (Bret Amundson/Forum News Service)

BEMIDJI, Minn. - While the southeastern part of the state remains on high alert for chronic wasting disease in wildlife, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources doesn't see a high risk for it in the Northwoods region.

Lou Cornicelli, DNR Wildlife Research manager, said chronic wasting disease, commonly known as CWD, is a fatal brain disease to deer, elk and moose. The main concern, Cornicelli said, is that it's infectious among animals upon direct contact.

"The difficulty of a disease like this is it just doesn't go away," Cornicelli said. "Once it springs up in a population, it's usually there forever."

As of Dec. 31, the closest case of CWD to Bemidji was discovered in a farmed deer herd in Crow Wing County near Merrifield, according to the Minnesota Department of Animal Health.

In total, Cornicelli said the disease has been found in six game farms and twice in the wild. According to the DNR's research, the disease has either entered the state by importing in from a farm or walking naturally over the border from Wisconsin or Iowa.

"There's various ways the disease can be transferred and it can depend on the context of the situation. If it were to get established in the wild and naturally occurs in the landscape, though, it would take a long time to get up north and into the Bemidji region," Cornicelli said. "For it to be a higher risk, it would have to be some point source introduction, such as an infected animal that escapes."

Because of the prevalence of CWD in northern Iowa and western Wisconsin, Cornicelli said the risk remains highest in the southern portion of the state.

"We don't see the risk as much in the northern part of the state or in eastern North Dakota," Cornicelli said. "North Dakota does have the disease, but it's in the western side of that state."

In response to the disease's spread in the state, Cornicelli said the DNR is taking aggressive action so that it doesn't spread.

According to a press release from the agency, the DNR began a series of meetings with landowners in a disease management area around the city of Preston, where CWD was most recently found, on the subject of deer shooting permits that become effective Monday, Jan. 16. Additionally, the DNR has placed a five county deer feeding ban in southeastern Minnesota and an aerial survey to determine deer population and density in the area has taken place.

"If we find out later through surveillance that the disease is well established, we'll have to look at managing and mitigating population as a result," Cornicelli said.