Hunters had questions for DNR big game coordinator Lou Cornicelli Monday evening at Pine Island.
The DNR began a chronic wasting disease informational meeting with hundreds of southeast Minnesota residents at 7 Monday evening in Pine Island, Minn. — and those in attendance had plenty of questions for state officials.
Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game coordinator, outlined the DNR's attempt, now about two weeks old, to cull 900 deer from the southeast's whitetail herd, where chronic wasting disease was discovered in an archer-killed deer Nov. 28 near the town of Pine Island.
Cornicelli said 210 shooting permits have been issued to area landowners
Dr. Bill Hartmann, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said about 2,500 captive elk were tested statewide last year for CWD, with no animals found to be positive.
Hartmann said the 10 or more captive elk farms within 10 miles of the spot where the CWD-infected deer was killed are cooperating, and either building solid fences around their herds, or adding a second fence to keep wild deer away.
CWD can be transmitted by animal-to-animal contact, and it's possible the wild deer was infected by a captive elk.
In 2009, a captive elk herd not far from where the infected deer was killed was depopulated — killed in its entirety by the federal government — after a CWD infected elk was found there. Subsequently, three other elk on the farm were found to be infected.
The lone deer killed in November is the only one in about 7,500 whitetails the DNR has tested in southeast Minnesota for CWD in recent years to be infected.
Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said "no one wants sharpshooters out there'' killing deer, referring to federal sharpshooters who might be called in to help reach the 900-deer quota.
"But please think about allowing some take of animals from your property,'' Johnson said. "And please obey the deer-feeding ban.''
The DNR issued a deer-feeding ban in southeast Minnesota Monday.
Scores of DNR personnel are working on the CWD crisis, as the agency attempts to determine how widespread the infection is.
Funds from hunting license sales are paying for the operation, which is estimated to cost upwards of $400,000. But the Legislature will be asked for reimbursement, Johnson said.
Chronic wasting disease is always fatal to deer, elk and moose. Moose contract the disease relatively rarely. Deer are most susceptible.
Cornicelli, Hartmann and Johnson faced many questions from the audience, some of them pointed, a few heated.
• About 200 feet of fence was reported down at the depopulated elk farm in recent days. Did any wild deer enter the facility? Hartmann's answer: no.
• Why were tax dollars used to reimburse the closed farm for their elk? "These were not Minnesota tax dollars that were used, but federal dollars,'' Hartmann said. "There are certain diseases . . . that are of such great concern'' that depopulation is warranted, Hartmann said. "Sometimes tax dollars can have a huge benefit to the state.''
• Does CWD affect humans? "There is no scientific evidence that it is transmitted to human beings,'' said Dr. Eric Anderson of the Department of Health.
• What happens if a landowner continues to feed deer? "There's no black and white answer. The bottom line is feeding is banned,'' Cornicelli said.
• Can entrails left behind during the current culling spread CWD? "The disease is really specific to cervids (deer, elk, moose) . . . so the guts on the landscape are of minimal risk,'' Cornicelli said
• How is it known that CWD can be spread by animal to animal contact? "It's been demonstrated that it can be started that way,'' Cornicelli said, citing studies in Colorado and Wyoming.
• Why are high-powered rifles allowed in an area where only shotguns are used during hunting season? "It's not mandatory to use rifles,'' Cornicelli said. "It's totally up to the discretion of the landowner.''
• How old was the whitetail doe infected with CWD when the archer killed her? Cornicelli said he couldn't be sure because the animal wasn't aged. "But it was probably older than 10,'' Cornicelli said.
• How long can CWD stay in soil? "We know at least five to seven years,'' Cornicelli said. "It's a long time.''
• If no positives show up in the 900 deer tested, then what? "We can't say,'' Cornicelli said. "Certainly that pattern would suggest we have few positives (in the area).''
• Will every deer exposed to CWD contract it? "No,'' Cornicelli said. "Certain strains of elk are less susceptible. It's not a known fact that every one that is exposed will get it. But most do.''
• Has the closed elk farm been quarantined? "They can't have any deer, elk or moose on the property for five years,'' Hartmann said.
• How many fawns have been killed so far by landowners in the southeast? "About 25 percent have been fawns,'' Cornicelli said. "They don't count toward the sampling. Wisconsin has tested tens of thousands of fawns to get one positive. Your bang for the buck is with the adults.''
• How did the infected elk at the closed farm contract CWD? "We don't know,'' Hartmann said.
• How will DNR enforce the feeding ban? "Education,'' said DNR conservation officer Capt. Greg Salo. "The feeding ban stands. It has to be done.''
• Will baiting be allowed for the culling of the 900 deer? "No.''
• Are bird feeders considered to be deer feeders? "Not as long as the feeder is 6 feet or more off the ground.''
• How long will the feeding ban be in place? "A while.''
• Are salt blocks and/or mineral blocks legal? "No.''
• How does the DNR plan to reduce densities from 60 to 70 deer per square mile to 20 deer per square mile in parts of the southeast? "With landowner shooting permits,'' Cornicelli said. "But the longer term . . . will be with more liberal hunting regulations.''
• What precautions should be taken when field-dressing a deer? "You should always wear gloves when you gut an animal,'' Cornicelli said. "Research suggests it's not a human health risk, but you should always take precautions.''