Few Minnesota hunters tested deer for chronic wasting disease
Doug Smithm Star Tribune
Dec. 15, 2002
How concerned were Minnesota's deer hunters this fall about the possibility of shooting a deer infected with chronic wasting disease?
Not very, it turns out.
The state's 450,000 deer hunters took just 528 deer to veterinarians around the state under a program launched this fall to provide hunters with the opportunity of having their deer tested for chronic wasting disease.
Some had expected that up to 25,000 hunters -- about 5 percent of the deer hunter population -- would submit deer samples. Instead, only about one-eighth of 1 percent did so.
"Holy mackerel, that surprised me," said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. "That shocks me because of the number of people who have been talking about having their deer tested."
Johnson said he had figured 20,000 to 25,000 hunters were going to submit samples.
State officials also were surprised.
"It's much lower than I personally had expected," said Mike DonCarlos, Department of Natural Resources wildlife research manager.
Said Johnson: "What is does point out is people got the information that this is a disease of deer and elk, it's not a human disease, and it hasn't been found [in the wild] in Minnesota yet."
Under the program, hastily arranged by the DNR, the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association, hunters could take their deer to one of 150 veterinarians around the state. For a fee ranging from $55 to $85, the veterinarians took brain samples from the deer and sent them to the university lab for chronic wasting disease testing.
DonCarlos said that fee may have a been a major factor for hunters.
"It means apparently not as many people were as concerned about chronic wasting disease; they voted with their pocketbooks," he said. "Also, I think it's a price-sensitive deal. Had the tests been offered free of charge, there would have been many more deer tested."
Dr. Jim Collins, head of the university's diagnostic lab, said the testing program could change by next fall because of development of new testing methods, which could lower costs. This year's testing program was put together on short notice after a captive elk at an Aitkin farm was found to have chronic wasting disease.
"It will probably be rethought and refined and improved for next year," he said. But a testing program definitely will be offered to hunters, he said, despite the low response this year.
Meanwhile, the DNR announced last week that the first group of hunter-harvested deer tested for chronic wasting disease came up negative. The results were for 804 deer samples, including 390 turned in and paid for by hunters and 414 tested as part of the DNR's survey of 4,500 deer samples collected from 17 deer permit areas.
"We're pleased we haven't found a positive yet," said DonCarlos, but we've only got about 10 percent of the results from our hunter-harvest surveillance program back right now."
The samples came from permit Nos. 341, 342, 345, 346, 417, 427 and from Camp Ripley.
Deer harvest up
Minnesota's regular firearms deer hunters harvested about 197,168 deer this fall -- the fourth highest ever -- despite about a 4.5 percent decline in hunter numbers.
But the harvest was less than the DNR had hoped for, especially considering that the agency offered a record 363,765 antlerless permits.
"We did fall short," said the DNR's Steve Merchant. "We would have liked to have harvested more."
Merchant said the smaller-than-desired harvest could cause problems.
"We do have some areas where we are carrying too many deer," Merchant said. Another mild winter could boost an already burgeoning deer population, especially in the northwest and southeast.
The 2002 harvest number released last week is preliminary and likely will change slightly. It doesn't include deer killed by muzzleloaders or archers. The muzzleloader season closes today, and the archery season closes Dec. 31.
The 197,168 kill is slightly higher than last year, when regular firearms hunters killed 197,063 deer.
"The north and northeast areas continued to do well," said Lou Cornicelli, Department of Natural Resources big-game specialist. "The southern part of the state was down again."
Cornicelli said many fields of standing corn likely hurt the harvest in the south.
The numbers indicate deer harvest was up 3.2 percent in the northwest, up 9 percent in the northeast, was down 4.5 percent in the central part of the state and down 9.7 percent in the south.
Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty still hasn't chosen a new DNR commissioner, and it's uncertain whether an appointee will be named this week.
Officials had expected to name a new commissioner by now. Charlie Weaver, Pawlenty's transition team leader, said last week that the process is continuing and "we're continuing to look at new names."
Weaver said the job, which pays about $108,000, hasn't been offered to anyone yet, and that the new administration isn't having a difficult time finding qualified people. He also said the looming state budget crisis hasn't scared away potential candidates.
"Our standards are high; we want someone passionate about the mission," Weaver said. He said the appointment is considered a critical one. "It's worth taking our time," he said.
Weaver said he was "overly optimistic" when he said two weeks ago that he expected a candidate to be named soon. He said the goal now is to appoint someone before Pawlenty takes office Jan. 6.
Holsten a candidate
There are more changes coming in natural resources leadership at the Legislature.
Rep. Mark Holsten, R-Stillwater, no longer will chair the key House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, and instead now will head the House Regulated Industries Committee. Holsten said the Republican leadership asked if he would switch committee chairs, and he agreed.
"It was for the greater good of the caucus," he said. Holsten has served on the House Regulated Industries Committee for several years.
He said he will remain a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee. "I'll still be in the mix."
Meanwhile, Holsten apparently remains a candidate for DNR commissioner.
"I hope so," he said. "It's something I could do and would like to do."
Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount now will chair the natural resources committee.
-- Doug Smith is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
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