The Minnesota Board of Animal Health would regulate all captive elk and deer in the state under a legislative proposal to help stop the spread of chronic wasting disease.
The proposal by a broad-based task force would have the board operate a mandatory registration and chronic wasting disease surveillance program.
The legislative report, which also recommends giving the board $600,000 per year to operate the program, was prepared over the past nine months by agencies and organizations dealing with the state’s captive cervidae or wild deer herds. The proposals are aimed at helping the state stop the disease, which is fatal to elk and deer, from spreading among the state’s elk population and into the wild deer herd. So far, it has been found in two captive elk but no wild deer.
Oversight is split, with the board regulating 319 herds of deer, elk and other cervidae. The DNR regulates game farms, including 452 with cervidae such as deer and elk. The board is generally considered to have tighter rules and standards, because of its livestock background, to be better equipped to manage captive animals.
Now, 227 farms participate in the board’s voluntary program, agreeing to register the animals, to report any death and to submit brain samples for testing. Under the new proposal, all 771 farms would have to participate.
“This would cost some additional money,” said Edgerton, agricultural policy director for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “In a time of budget cuts, the timing isn’t good.”
Even with no additional money, the board would do its best to get the job done, said Dr. Paul Anderson, the board’s assistant director.
“But to fully implement this with the best scenario would take more resources,” Anderson said.
The report recommends other measures, including:
Making permanent a temporary restriction on importing elk and deer. For the past year, farmers haven’t been able to bring them into Minnesota unless the animals have been part of a chronic wasting disease surveillance program for three years. Without action, that restriction will expire this year.
Banning hunters from bringing whole elk or deer carcasses into the state. “They’d have to be processed or boned out,” Edgerton said. “A lot of people already do that. But we don’t want the spinal cord or brain (where the prion causing the disease can be found) back here. So we though ‘Why push that envelope?’ That will cause some folks some heartburn, especially those who hunt in Wisconsin.”
Providing money for the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which has taken on new testing responsibilities for chronic wasting disease, West Nile virus and other diseases.
The lab is seeking $1.5 million for more space and better laboratory capabilities. The university doesn’t consider the facility, built and equipped in 1959, able to meet the increased volume of testing required of it. The number of rests performed at the lab, for example, has more than doubled in the past decade.
As chronic wasting disease has spread from a relatively small area of Colorado and Wyoming, more states have tightened their borders and imposed mandatory testing and surveillance requirements. North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, for example, require mandatory registration and surveillance.
The DNR and the Board of Animal Health prepared the report, with help from at least seven other organizations including the Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Elk Breeders Association and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
Edgerton said DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam is reviewing the report before it’s sent on to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who will consider whether to present it to the Legislature.