A troubled Winona County deer farm recently described by the state Board of Animal Health as having “a good history of CWD surveillance” reportedly lost a buck that was killed by a neighboring hunter and never tested for the disease.

The escaped 10-pointer was shot in 2007 by an Illinois man who kept its ear tag and mounted the deer’s head and antlers. The ear tag links the deer to the same deer farm reported by authorities last month to be wholly infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The long-delayed hunting report from a neighbor of Winona County deer farmer Bruce Hoseck is the third report received recently by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), raising suspicions of farmed deer escaping into the wild. It’s an issue likely to be addressed Friday by Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles when his office reports on how the Board of Animal Health has carried out its oversight duties of deer and elk farms.

The DNR has complained that the Board of Animal Health is too cozy with deer farmers to ideally protect the state’s invaluable wild deer herd from infected game farm deer. The contagious and fatal deer and elk disease has taken hold in Wisconsin and Iowa and is now appearing in wild deer in Minnesota’s Fillmore County.

One of the issues to be covered in the legislative auditor’s report is to what extent the Board of Animal Health and DNR have coordinated efforts to contain the spread of CWD.

“For us it’s indicative of what might be a larger problem,” Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager, said of the recent cases.

He said increased public awareness of the issue is resulting in more reports of escaped game farm deer.

Roadkill mystery

Earlier this month, DNR wildlife officials drove to Hitterdal in northwestern Minnesota to recover a roadkill deer that reportedly was wearing a red tag in its right ear when it was hit. The motorist submitted a photograph of the deer to authorities but didn’t check the tag. By the time the DNR located the deer two days later, someone had cut off its right ear and sliced the animal’s left ear, possibly to remove a second tag, according to a DNR document.

DNR Wildlife Health Program Supervisor Michelle Carstensen said tissue samples from the small female deer are being tested for CWD. The agency is looking for tips to trace the deer’s origin and identify who cut its ears.

Dr. Linda Glaser of the Board of Animal Health said the red object pictured in the deer’s ear looked “very different” from what a deer farm operator would use for official identification. The agency isn’t treating the case as an escape, she said.

“Too bad the DNR didn’t get there sooner before the tags got cut out,” Glaser said.

More than 20 miles from Hitterdal last November, deer hunter Paul Stock grunted when he saw a buck chasing three does on private land east of Mahnomen. When the seven-pointer stepped into the open, Stock fired at a range of 180 yards. As he approached to harvest the deer, he saw a red livestock tag in its ear — evidence it had escaped from Kramer Whitetails, a nearby deer farm.

Stock said he reported the incident to the Board of Animal Health and was told weeks later that testing did not detect CWD.

Glaser said the buck harvested by Stock had been reported by its owner as escaped and missing. She said the agency cited the farm for a violation and issued a $250 fine.

Stock said he also reported the incident to the DNR in case the Board of Animal Health did not.

“I want to protect the wild deer herd,” Stock said. “I don’t necessarily have a problem with cervid [deer] farms … but they need to do something about these enclosures to make sure they can’t get out.”

Looking back

Chad Southard of Rockford, Ill., said he’s also concerned about the spread of CWD from escaped captive deer in Minnesota. He still has the yellowish ear tag from a buck he shot in Winona County’s Cedar Valley in November 2007. He knows now that the tag links the deer to the Hoseck deer farm.

“It’s a prime deer hunting area and I wouldn’t want it ruined,” said Southard, who was hunting on land owned by Bob Roraff when the buck was taken. Both men said the deer was acting strangely.

Roraff said memories of the 2007 hunt returned to him recently after the Board of Animal Health reported CWD in Hoseck’s deer herd. Hoseck agreed to have his small herd “depopulated” to test the remaining seven deer. The Board of Animal Health announced March 2 that all seven animals had CWD.

The news prompted Roraff to recently report the 2007 hunting incident to a DNR official in Rochester. “I’m afraid of it spreading,” Roraff said in an interview.

On Tuesday, Glaser said a review of agency records show three missing deer in Hoseck’s herd inventory in 2008. They were recognized as gone (not escaped) and not tested for CWD, a violation of state regulation requiring 100 percent CWD testing.

Glaser said Hoseck was penalized back then for the lack of testing but she defended the agency for saying in a recent news release that Hoseck “has a good history of CWD surveillance.”

“He has tested many more animals since that time period,” Glaser said.

Cornicelli said he’s concerned Hoseck’s records didn’t reflect an escape. “Clearly the records don’t line up,” he said. “It’s indicative of a problem with oversight and record keeping.”

Carstensen said she plans to discuss the case with the Board of Animal Health. The DNR plans to conduct CWD surveillance of wild deer during the 2018 hunting season to check for a disease outbreak.