A group of landowners in northwestern Minnesota will try to stop the Department of Natural Resources from staging a special deer hunt intended to fight the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
The unusual 16-day deer hunt is scheduled to start Saturday in Permit Area 101 of northwestern Minnesota, near Skime. The area of the hunt is 450 square miles, containing an estimated eight to 10 deer per square mile.
But Grant Merritt, a Twin Cities attorney representing the landowners, said Saturday he will try to persuade the DNR to take a different approach to eradicate the disease, which has infected cattle and deer in the area.
Merritt hopes to meet with DNR officials today. If negotiations fail, Merritt said, his clients would file a lawsuit and call for an injunction against the hunt.
"They don't want them all slaughtered,'' Merritt said. "We don't think that's the answer.''
Lou Cornicelli, the DNR's big-game coordinator, said Saturday he was unaware of any opposition to the special hunt.
"I have no comment,'' he said. "We'll have to wait and see.''
Merritt said his clients own more than 4,000 acres of land north of Lower Red Lake and are deer hunters themselves. They want to protect the deer herd in the area against an extra hunting season.
They also want to guard against a possible follow-up hunt by federal sharpshooters. The landowners are Scott Marvin, Conway Marvin and Gary Engkjer, said Jim Wills, another lawyer on the case.
The DNR has said it will conduct an aerial survey of the hunting area in mid-January to determine the number of deer and their distribution. If further reductions of deer populations are needed, sharpshooters would be deployed in localized areas, the DNR has said.
The special hunt was announced in early December after three more deer out of 1,100 killed by hunters this fall tested positive for the disease. That brought the total of infected wild deer to 13 since surveillance began in 2005, when the disease was first discovered in a cattle herd in northwestern Minnesota.
Since then, eight infected cattle herds in Roseau and Beltrami counties have been destroyed.
The DNR has said the prevalence of the disease has remained low and that infected deer are safe to eat as long as the meat is cooked to 170 degrees. Still, the agency ordered the special hunt to keep bovine tuberculosis from spreading through the state's deer herd.
Merritt said one possible alternative to killing deer is to separate deer from cattle by fencing cattle herds.
Tony Kennedy • 651-673-4213