Bowing to public pressure in favor of an all-out fight against chronic wasting disease (CWD), the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday reversed itself by allowing federal sharpshooters to harvest deer in a disease hotspot on public land.
The 3-1 vote immediately cleared the way for the Department of Natural Resources and a team of wildlife specialists from the U.S. Agricultural Department to cull a sizable pocket of white-tailed deer from county-owned land next to the state veterans cemetery in Preston.
The cemetery’s sizable woods and surrounding county land have been off limits to hunters out of respect to veterans. But the area is believed to hold CWD-infected deer because it’s located in a section of land loaded with the disease. Half of the 42 CWD-positive deer detected in southeastern Minnesota lived within a mile of the cemetery.
“I’m very happy,” said Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health group leader for the DNR. “It gives us a good opportunity to get at those deer.”
The DNR’s strategy to thwart the outbreak of CWD in southeastern Minnesota hinges on removing as many infected whitetails as it can from the core area of disease around Preston. But when agency officials recently approached Fillmore County Board Chairman Duane Bakke for access to the 86 acres of county land by the cemetery, they were rebuffed. The board voted 4-0 last week to ban the issue from its agendas, and it disallowed the DNR even from stepping on the land to recover any dead deer.
In a Star Tribune story on Sunday that explained the standoff, Bakke admitted to a degree of anti-DNR bias on the county board.
When the board convened Tuesday for its regularly scheduled meeting, a DNR wildlife specialist and supporters of the agency’s fight against CWD were in attendance. The cohort included a retired University of Minnesota professor, local deer hunters and private landowners who have given the DNR permission to cull herds on their property.
After the attendees spoke, Bakke made a successful motion to open the land for targeted deer removal.
Carstensen said she hopes bait will draw deer away from the cemetery grounds. The state Department of Veterans Affairs declined DNR access to the property despite a plea from DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen. The DNR is now extending its Preston area deer removal March 29.