The March 5 county board meeting was dominated by the citizens input section of the agenda. Several came forward urging the board to reconsider last week’s action. At the February 26 board meeting a request from the DNR to have access to county land was denied. In the minutes it stated the chair was authorized to “share the board’s wishes for no hunting, no access onto the property to retrieve a deer if shot from the trail and no reason for the DNR to attend a future meeting.”
This day, citizens urged commissioners to reverse their decision and allow professional sharp shooters access to county property to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease. There is no treatment for the disease. It passes through animal contact or environmental contamination (infected carcasses, urine, saliva, feces). It is not known to infect livestock or humans at this time.
Bonita Underbakke, Holt Township, urged commissioners to reconsider. She sees no advantage in letting the State Veterans Cemetery become a “preserve for diseased deer to multiply.” Chairman Duane Bakke noted the cemetery is state property and the county has no authority there. However, there is county property along the perimeter of the cemetery.
George Spangler, Chatfield, while retired, noted his expertise in fish and wildlife management. CWD has been found in 25 states and several Canadian provinces. He recognized that there are no known cases of CWD being transmitted to humans. Spangler said it was a misstatement to characterize the work of the USDA sharpshooters as hunting. He insisted the board should welcome more information about CWD and animal control. Spangler urged the board to reconsider their action last week and also have a public hearing on the issue.
Bakke maintained the minutes of the last meeting were accurate, as the county does not allow “hunting” on county land. Spangler also had objection to the county not allowing the retrieval of a deer shot from the trail. He insisted leaving a diseased carcass will contaminate the soil and the water.
John Zanmiller, Blufflands Whitetails Association, centered his comments on the negative economic impact that will be felt in the county if less hunters choose to hunt in the county due to CWD. He suggested recreational property could be devalued 15% due to CWD. This could reduce the tax revenue from this classification of property and cause an increase in taxes on other properties. Less hunters will negatively impact businesses that hunters frequent. Zanmiller asked the board to reconsider their decision.
Minnesota DNR conservation officer Mitch Boyum (Fillmore County) explained why the sharpshooters do not shoot from the bike trail which is state property. Due to its limited width, shooting from it is not realistic. Boyum noted half of the CWD positive deer (21 out of a total of 43) that have been killed in southeastern Minnesota have been killed within a mile of the veterans cemetery and the county lands that surround much of it. Boyum referred to the area as “ground zero.”
Boyum suggested the board listen to wildlife disease experts, adding there are very few complaints about USDA people. There are not expectations that the disease can be eliminated, but a hope that the spread of the disease can be slowed.
Surveys conducted by helicopter in this disease management area found more than 100 deer in this targeted area. Bob Meier, DNR, in a letter said it was critical to remove deer from this area. He also noted there has already been a 12% loss in the number of hunters around this area in the past two years.
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs expressed their support for the county if they allow “limited access to county property” to the DNR/USDA for a deer culling operation along the perimeter of the cemetery.
Bakke came armed with a resolution he had authored and a map of the area. He asked members to consider supporting the resolution. Bakke suggested allowing sharpshooters to work in fields 8 and 9 (total of 40 acres). He recognized the spread of CWD and its effect on the health of deer in the county and the negative economic impact due to a lower number of hunters. The disease management plan to stop the spread of CWD is not considered hunting. The general hunting ban on county land on the perimeter of the cemetery will remain in place.
Board members were assured all venison will be processed in Preston and once cleared (negative for CWD), the meat will be donated. Sharpshooters aim for vital areas in the neck and high shoulders and use all non-toxic ammunition. The corn used for bait will be kept in tubs instead of being spread on the ground. Positive carcasses are disposed of at the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (U of MN) in a chemical digester.
Sheriff John DeGeorge explained his office is contacted when sharpshooters go out. It is seemless from our end.
Commissioner Mitch Lentz expressed his disappointment regarding efforts to work with the DNR on projects, mostly road and bridge. The DNR is not a good neighbor. Lentz complained the DNR doesn’t respond to e-mails or answer phone calls. Boyum insisted this is different.
Lentz didn’t see how this attempt to manage the spread of the disease will fix anything; it won’t get rid of the problem. Gary Feine commented that it needs to be investigated as to why this area is a “hot spot.” It is important to find out why. Lentz said they should use data for research and find out why there is a concentration of CWD in this area, as opposed what he calls selective harvesting. He added he will not vote in favor of Bakke’s resolution.
Commissioner Randy Dahl said he would vote in favor, but he wants better communication with the DNR at higher levels. He added that he has had about the same number of calls from citizens in favor that he has had from those against.
Bakke commented that last week the second in rank at the DNR asked to address the county board and the motion approved basically told him he was not welcome.
The resolution to authorize limited access to county land was approved (3-1). Lentz voted no. The DNR/USDA will be allowed access immediately and through March 29. The DNR shall provide an annual report on the status of CWD to the county board.
Other business in brief
• Jessica Erickson, director of nursing, asked the board to consider a Consumer Support Grant application. She described it as a long term care waiver which doesn’t cost the county, but is fully funded by the state. It will allow us to better serve our community members. The application was approved.
Erickson explained the Public Health Association is looking for support of the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP). It is among the county’s top three legislative priorities. A motion to support SHIP and the local Public Health Association’s efforts to maintain it was approved.
• County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman updated the board on the progress of moving offices serving the public all to the first floor of the courthouse.
• Bakke informed the board that some newer members of the planning commission are of the opinion that the restriction against building a dwelling on land greater than CER 65 should be reconsidered. The Board of Adjustment has allowed several variances. If we administrate through variances the ordinance is not working. Bakke noted Fillmore County is the least restrictive in the rural housing ordinance, compared to surrounding counties. He concluded maybe we should be more restrictive on density instead.