Testing for deer disease in the Brainerd lakes area will continue for several more hunting seasons because a whitetail recently tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).
The lab report, arriving near the end of this season, nullified the Department of Natural Resources' plan to drop CWD testing and other special management tactics for the area.
The DNR said Monday the disease showed up in just one of 1,234 hunter-harvested deer tested in the Brainerd area this season. The CWD-positive adult male deer was harvested near Nisswa. The positive finding ended a streak of three years when a mix of mandatory and voluntary tissue sampling found no signs of the scourge that biologists compare to Mad Cow Disease.
"Like us, area residents and hunters were optimistic that deer management could return to normal," said DNR Wildlife Health Program Supervisor Michelle Carstensen. "It's unfortunate but this discovery resets the clock, and CWD management measures will remain in place through at least the fall of 2024."
The affected region, known as Deer Permit Area 604, stretches north from Brainerd to Pine River and eastward to Aitkin. DNR first enlisted local hunters to help test for the disease after CWD was discovered in 2016 on a deer farm near Merrifield that sold hunts of fenced-in, genetically modified trophy bucks. In 2019, the disease showed up in a wild doe that was found dead in proximity to the state-regulated deer farm.
With nearly 15,000 wild deer in the area tested since 2017 and only two positives found, the DNR said it's confident CWD is not prevalent or widespread in the area's wild deer population. But continued testing as well as other efforts to help reduce risks of CWD spread — such as continued thinning of the herd, carcass movement restrictions and a ban on deer feeding — will continue to minimize the risk of CWD becoming established.
Minnesota's first CWD management zone was created by the DNR in southeastern Minnesota, where the disease has become established but at a low density. Other areas under CWD management by the DNR are in the south metro area (mostly Dakota County), east-central area, west-central area, the Climax, Minn., area and in the northwest.