The current State of Chronic Wasting Disease in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Minnesota DNR deer biologists have begun a study to determine how deer disperse in Filmore County where white-tailed deer are infected with chronic wasting disease – a question that apparently needs to be answered in an effort to prevent the spread of this fatal disease of deer, moose and elk.

Chronic wasting disease in epidemic proportions is now found in deer in 24 Wisconsin counties.

A recent study has proven monkeys fed venison from deer infected with chronic wasting disease can also develop this disease, suggesting humans may also be vulnerable to the CWD virus. The virus found in the brain and spinal cord of an infected deer might accidently be transmitted to venison while a deer is being butchered. For these reasons, all deer taken by hunters in areas where deer are known to be infected with this disease should be tested for CWD before the venison is butchered and/or consumed.

A primary concern among biologists dealing with this disease is finding ways to keep whitetails from congregating, thus helping to prevent the spread of CWD.

All whitetails in Minnesota and Wisconsin congregate in traditional wintering areas (also known as deer yards) from late December until snow melts in spring. Many deer travel 30 miles or more to reach their wintering areas. Some wintering areas are inhabited by several hundred deer.

All easily recognized yearling bucks (all whitetail bucks have different identifying markings and antlers) permanently disappeared from my two Minnesota whitetail study areas (Aitkin County, 1970–1989 and St. Louis County, 1990–2017) following annual migrations of whitetails to wintering areas (commonly occurring a few days before Christmas). Yearlings live on their mother’s ranges throughout their yearling year, occasionally exploring off range. When nearly two years of age, yearlings bucks and does returning to their mothers ranges in early spring are forced off-range by their mothers, upon which they disperse in search of their first individual home ranges. Studies by deer biologists in another state revealed yearling bucks commonly traveled six or more miles before they settled in suitably sized areas not currently inhabited by older bucks or does likely to prevent settlement by younger deer.

Unless whitetails are fenced in, I cannot imagine how anything can be done to prevent the natural dispersal of two-year-old whitetails in spring or congregating of large numbers of all whitetails in traditional areas in winter.

Sooner or later, after everything else has been tried (the American way), I believe deer biologists and deer hunters will be forced to conclude the only practical way to eradicate CWD in our deer populations is to bite the bullet and take the same precautions that were successfully used to prevent the spread of incurable Mad Cow disease and Bird Flu.

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