GRAND FORKS -- There’ll be some changes for Minnesota deer hunters in the southern Red River Valley after test results confirmed a whitetail buck shot in late October southwest of Climax, Minnesota, during the youth deer season did indeed have chronic wasting disease.

A brain disease that’s fatal to deer, elk and moose, CWD had never been detected or suspected in the area and was only found when a hunter voluntarily had the buck his daughter shot tested as a routine matter of course.

After preliminary results came back as suspect for CWD just days before the firearms deer season, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department scrambled to set up voluntary collection sites for hunters to drop off deer heads for testing on both sides of the Red River.

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In Minnesota, self-service collection sites were set up in Climax and Nielsville and the DNR asked hunters in Deer Permit Areas 261 and 262 to voluntarily submit deer heads for testing. In North Dakota, the Game and Fish Department set up voluntary collection sites in Fargo, Hillsboro and Grand Forks, all of which are in hunting Unit 2B. Game and Fish personnel staff the collection site in Hillsboro from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the deer gun season to assist hunters who want to keep their deer heads for mounting.

North Dakota’s deer gun season continues through Sunday, Nov. 21, while season in Minnesota’s 200-series Deer Permit Areas ended Sunday, Nov. 14.

What’s next

With the confirmed case of CWD on the Minnesota side of the Red River, the DNR will establish a CWD Management Zone” within about a 15-mile radius of the site where the positive deer was taken, said Seth Goreham, acting wildlife research manager for the DNR.

The size of the CWD Management Zone will depend on deer densities, movements and proximity to current DPAs, Goreham said.

A CWD Management Zone is the DNR’s most restrictive designation and goes into effect in areas where CWD has been found in wild deer, such as the positive case southwest of Climax.

“We’ll also look to implement a recreational feeding and attractant ban in the area, institute carcass movement restrictions and evaluate opportunities to reduce the wild deer density (within) the zone,” Goreham said in an email. “A lot more of these details are going to be worked out in the next few weeks and set up prior to the next hunting season.”

The DNR establishes a CWD “Control Zone” in areas bordering a management zone where CWD has been detected in wild deer or a slight spread has been documented. Less restrictive than a Management Zone, a Control Zone is designed to establish a buffer to prevent further spread of the disease.

In areas where CWD has been found in captive deer, such as the case in Beltrami County where a farmed deer herd tested positive in April, the DNR sets up Surveillance Zones, which are the least restrictive designation.

So far, few hunters in DPAs 261 and 262 have voluntarily submitted deer heads for testing on the Minnesota side of the river, DNR statistics show. As of Thursday, Nov. 18, only 16 samples – including the buck that was voluntarily tested in October – had been collected in DPA 261, and nine samples had been collected in DPA 262. Test results were pending on all except the buck that ultimately tested positive after being sampled in October.

No test results are yet available for North Dakota, where about 53 samples have been collected from the three collection sites in Unit 2B, said Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

"Obviously, as big of a unit as that is, we'd like to see more than that," Bahnson said. "But statewide, we're kind of low on our number of submitted deer heads.

"It also seems like the harvest is down a bit so far, too, so that probably doesn't help things. Hopefully, we get a lot of animals harvested in the next three days and a lot of heads dropped off. We'll just have to see."

Meanwhile, the news is “so far, so good” for testing efforts in a DNR Surveillance Zone that includes all or parts of four deer permit areas near the site of the Beltrami County deer farm that tested positive for CWD in April.

The DNR sampled 1,694 deer during the opening weekend of the firearms season in permit areas 110, 169, 184 and 197. As of Thursday, 1,070 of the wild deer sampled opening weekend had tested negative for CWD, and results were pending on 624 deer.

Test results are updated regularly on the DNR website.

In North Dakota, 44 cases of CWD have been confirmed in wild deer since 2009, when the disease first was detected in Unit 3F2 in the southwest part of the state. Results from this year’s sampling efforts aren’t yet available.

Minnesota has documented 118 cases of CWD since 2010, when the disease was first detected in wild deer, mostly in the southeast part of the state.

Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken