Though chronic wasting disease hasn’t been found in Minnesota’s wild deer herd, hunters this fall will be able to get their deer tested for the disease by the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul.

The lab is getting special equipment and expects to be certified for chronic wasting disease testing soon by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The testing will happen,” said Dr. Jim Collins, lab director. “We’re not sure what our capacity will be, but we’re trying to gear up to do 1,000 samples per day.”

Under the plan, hunters who want their deer tested will take the deer’s head to local veterinarians who have agreed to participate in the testing program. They will take brain stem samples and send them to the university’s lab for testing.

Collins said the total cost to a hunter is uncertain; his lab will charge $30 for the tests, and the veterinarians obviously will charge to take the sample, mail it to the lab, then inform the hunter of the results.

“The costs will vary depending on the amount of services,” said Sharon Vangsness, executive director of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association.

The association is polling its 1,600 members to determine those willing to participate in the program, Vangsness said. She said the association has asked its members to respond by Thursday.

The association plans to publish a list of veterinarians willing to participate in the program, and those lists will be available at all deer registration stations, Vangsness said.

It’s unclear whether hunters will be able to submit samples directly to the lab, or will be required to go through a veterinarian. It’s essential that the proper sample is tested, Collins said.

“There’s a specific area of the brain we need to evaluate,” he said. “If you don’t have the proper sample, the testing is for naught.”

But he said hunters could be instructed in how to collect the samples. DNR officials are being trained in how to take samples. The lab plans to also test samples from the 5,000 hunter-killed deer that the Department of Natural Resources wants to test from around the state this fall to help determine if the disease exists in the wild deer herd.

If a significant number of hunters also have their deer tested for personal reasons, that would give the DNR a better overall picture of whether the disease is present in the state’s wild deer herd.

Collins said his lab originally intended to test only those DNR-collected samples, but decided to offer the service to hunters, too, because of the heavy interest and a request by the DNR.

He said DNR officials expect only a percentage of hunters will want their deer tested. Officials hope the testing will resolve the concerns for those hunters.

“There are a number of hunters adamant about testing their deer,” said Mike DonCarlos, DNR wildlife research manager. “This will provide that service.”

State and federal officials have said there is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted to humans, though hunters have been urged to use caution when handling deer.

Officials plan to release details of the testing plan soon. Collins said everything should be in place before the regular firearms season opens Nov. 9. The lab already has invested $150,000 to do the tests.

Meanwhile, the second round of tests on deer killed in the Aitkin area to check for chronic wasting disease were negative, officials reported last week. Test results from 25 of 90 deer that have been killed in a nine-mile area around an elk farm where Minnesota’s first case of the disease was reported in August have come back negative.

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