Deer Reduction Efforts In Bovine TB Area Eliminate Need For Special Spring Disease Hunt

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Sharpshooters, hunters and landowners have taken 1,028 deer as part of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) efforts to stop the potential spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in northwestern Minnesota.

“Successful sharpshooting efforts have eliminated the need for a special disease hunt on public lands this spring,” said Paul Telander, DNR northwest region wildlife manager. “Hunters would likely have harvested very few deer due to reduced populations.”

Deer population in the 164 square-mile core of the bovine TB disease management area was estimated at about 800 animals during an aerial survey conducted in January before sharpshooting efforts began. As of April 14, Telander said, aerial sharpshooters had taken 416 deer and ground sharpshooters had taken 398 animals in and near the core area, bringing the 2008 sharpshooting total to 814 animals.

In addition, landowners have taken 94 deer in an expanded area and a special early January hunt conducted in the deer permit area 101 resulted in hunters harvesting 120 animals.

In 2007, deer population in the 164 square-mile core area was estimated at about 920 animals and sharpshooters took 488 deer.

“Our intent is to keep pressure on this small portion of Minnesota’s 1.2 million wild deer herd until the disease is eliminated,” Telander said. “Landowners have the opportunity to assist us in this effort. But that opportunity carries the responsibility of following the special rules, exercising safety precautions, testing every deer shot and taking special care to respect neighbors and private property.”

DNR recognizes the sacrifice involved for hunters in the core disease management area, he said. But population reduction is a necessary step to remove as many potentially infected animals as possible, increasing the likelihood that the disease can be eliminated in wild deer.

“Targeting deer reduction efforts to the smallest possible area minimizes impacts on the deer herd while effectively addressing bovine TB management needs,” Telander said.

Since bovine TB first was detected in cattle in 2005, 18 deer have tested bovine TB-positive.

The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine does initial screenings on the deer to detect likely positives. These are then sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for confirmation.Laboratory results are pending on the 1,028 additional deer taken since January 2008, but preliminary results indicate that eight additional deer may be infected. All of the confirmed positive deer as well as the suspect deer are adults and were in alive in 2005 when bovine TB was first discovered in the area. The prevalence of the disease in wild deer still remains low and is restricted to a small geographic region.

While aerial sharpshooting has concluded, ground sharpshooters will resume their efforts April 21 and continue through at least the end of April. A special rule allows landowners, tenants and their designees to take deer without a permit through Aug. 31. Special and expanded hunts also are being planned for fall 2008 and winter 2009.

DNR efforts to eliminate bovine TB in wild deer are part of a cooperative effort with the Board of Animal Health (BAH) and Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to regain the state’s bovine TB-free status. To find out more about the state’s response to this issue, go to www.bah.state.mn.us/tb/index.html.