Last year, 2018, was my best archery season of the 23 I’ve enjoyed in the woods. Perhaps the highlight was setting a ladder stand up with a friend and my 4-year old son. Once we got the stand up, my son stated that he wanted to stay out in the woods till dark to see some deer. Proud dad moment.

But my excitement over the 2018 season ended on Feb. 15, when I heard that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) had been confirmed in Crow Wing County.

The spouses of several hunting friends do not want them to hunt anywhere CWD is present — and if they do, will not allow them or their children to eat the meat without a CWD-free test result. Having a warning label on your venison saying “No matter how long you cook or freeze this meat, the infected prions will not be destroyed” is not appealing.

And if you don’t think CWD ever will affect humans, here is what the University of Minnesota’s director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy says: “I do believe that it is not a matter of if, but when, CWD crosses to humans.” (Duluth News Tribune, Jan. 13).

Hunters currently have to wait over one week to find out if the deer they harvested may be safe enough to eat. Federal and state governments need to develop a rapid field test.

News of southeastern Minnesota’s CWD infections during the fall of 2018 had me disappointed but thinking it would likely take decades to spread to the Brainerd Lakes area where I spend my hunting time. Turns out I was wrong, with the infected deer showing up about a half-mile from the infected Trophy Woods Ranch (Deer Farm) in Merrifield, where at least four more deer tested positive in 2018 after two had tested positive in 2016. Why do we allow a known CWD-infected deer farm to persist?

The Department of Natural Resources spends a lot fighting zebra mussels. Imagine how much more would be spent if we knew that zebra mussels infected walleyes and rendered them unsafe to eat.

In 2017, the DNR predicted that it would need $1.5 million to conduct CWD surveillance in wild deer herds around infected game farms. How much of the cost is paid for by game farms? Nothing. How about a tax on the deer farm sales similar to the tobacco tax?

Should we look at expanding our targeted deer removal toolbox beyond sharpshooters and special hunts, to include a reward program similar to what Wisconsin is proposing with its P4P (Payment for Positive) program?

Some hunters think that it will take a long time for CWD to affect their specific hunting areas and that their neighbor’s feeding won’t hurt because it is miles from the nearest CWD-infected location. Is there any extra deterrent for deer feeding violations within a certain distance of CWD deer locations? Speeding tickets cost more in construction zones.

The DNR collared deer in 2018 to determine how far they travel. Thus far, the longest distance was 77 miles, which means a deer infected in Crow Wing County may be eating at a feeding station in your neighbor’s backyard in St. Cloud, Alexandria, Bemidji or Grand Rapids. Swift action by the DNR to reduce the deer herd in the immediate area of the infected Crow Wing County deer is a necessity given that deer are known to travel long distances during the spring dispersal period and currently have small home ranges.

Is education a piece of the solution? Certainly. Could we send a mailing to everyone hunting in contaminated counties in other states to help them understand the importance of carcass transport restrictions? Will the DNR host informational sessions in communities recently found to be infected by CWD?

One of the biggest concerns I have about CWD is that many hunters don’t seem motivated by the dangers the disease presents until it’s in their backyard. Do we want to sit back and let CWD depopulate our wild deer herd, leaving a prion-infected landscape? Or should we take serious action immediately upon detection, which may involve a few years of low deer densities for the long-term benefit of our hunting tradition?

I want to thank the DNR for its valiant efforts thus far with the resources available. That being said, we cannot expect and rely upon each state to battle this CWD war on its own; rather we should demand a collaborative, functionally funded effort from the federal government.

I ask that our federal representatives work tirelessly to reinvigorate the CWD funding to 2004-10 levels, or more, with bills such as H.R.4454 and S.2252. I want to thank the state officials who are proposing and supporting funding at the state level.

Hunters — please don’t think that this won’t impact you, your hunting land, your friends or family. Look at the CWD infection map from 2007-18. It’s coming to a county near you unless we voice our support of solutions to our elected officials.

 

Justin Barrick lives in Baxter, Minn.