By John Zanmiller
Director of External Relations
Bluffland Whitetails Assn.
West St. Paul and Granger, MN
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). If you’re not a hunter you may never have heard of this disease that has been detected in Minnesota’s deer. But it’s here, and it could cause a major change in the lives of more than just deer and hunters. We need the legislature to have a real and honest debate on the disease and how we can contain, if not eliminate, the problem.
First some background on the disease. CWD was originally discovered in Colorado’s mule deer herd in 1967. Since then it has slowly spread into other 14 other states and Canadian provinces, and was first discovered in Minnesota in 2011. That case involved a wild deer shot near Pine Island. A nearby caged elk operation was also found to have a herd with the disease. In 2017 additional cases of wild and caged deer were discovered, and the DNR has been working to contain the spread with some success at considerable expense. The disease is very similar to Mad Cow Disease in cattle and Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease in humans. A misshapen prion causes a degeneration of the brain, causing the animal to suffer a slow and agonizing death. So far there have been no confirmations of deer to human infection, but one Canadian study and the Centers for Disease Control have cautioned against consuming infected venison.
The presence of the disease is causing great concern among hunters and conservationists, the opportunity for deer hunting in Minnesota has a long and storied history. Generations have shared hunts and the fellowship of deer camp, stories of the legendary bucks, and the ones that got away. I don’t think anyone wants a future without this unique experience, it’s part of our heritage.
But non-hunters should be concerned too. A healthy herd in the wild and in caged deer operations is essential to our rural economies. Every fall you can walk into our local businesses and see the distinct patterns and colors worn by the hunters. These folks are patronizing our sporting goods shops, our restaurants, our grocery stores, our motels, our butchers, and our taxidermists. What happens to those small business owners? What happens to the revenue that came with the thousands upon thousands of Minnesotans who take to the field to get that buck of a lifetime? And what happens to those motorists and farmers who rely on the hunts to keep the deer numbers manageable? Diseased deer rummaging through corn, in contact with livestock, and wandering out onto the highway?
The legislature has a real opportunity to do something about this problem now, but action has been slow and insufficient. We must face the reality that the disease is here, but we must insist on measures to contain the spread of the disease. Individuals, business owners, farmers, conservationists, and the Chamber of Commerce can be a big part of making changes a reality. We encourage you to contact your legislators and insist that real and comprehensive measures be taken to combat the spread of CWD.