Hunting’s new problems: West Nile virus and CWD

Hunters in Minnesota have already got enough problems. Now there are two more to worry about, West Nile and CWD.
For hunters wondering what happened to the grouse population, West Nile may be the culprit. Scientists have already documented how crows and blue jays can be devastated by West Nile, they don’t know if grouse suffer the same ending.
The DNR released information on a study Thursday that asks grouse hunters to collect information to determine the impact West Nile Disease is having on the grouse population.
“West Nile virus is carried by infected mosquitoes. Not all people or animals bitten by an infected mosquito will contract West Nile virus. There have been no documented cases of people contracting West Nile virus from consuming properly cooked meat. Although the virus has been present in Minnesota for quite some time, a study in Pennsylvania indicated the virus could impact ruffed grouse populations when combined with habitat stresses.”
So if you don’t see any grouse, take a look around for dead crows and blue jays. There may very well be a connection. The DNR is taking this seriously, even though the agency knows small game license sales could take a hit.
We are also concerned about Chronic Wasting Disease and its potential impact on the whitetail deer population.
Here’s what we know. CWD has been found in numerous game farms in Minnesota. The solution is to kill all the animals so it can’t spread into the wild. But here’s the problem, the DNR doesn’t have any idea where the game farms are located.
A total of eight deer/elk farms have detected CWD within their fences since 2002. In Minnesota, farmed cervids are classified as livestock and managed by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. The DNR has NO authority to oversee or regulate the farms or the animals.
How many deer farms are in northeast Minnesota? The DNR has no idea. As of April 2018, Minnesota had 398 registered herds, consisting of about 9,300 deer, elk and other similar species.
We know CWD almost always comes from captive deer and elk. And if CWD gets into the wild deer population, deer hunting will die off as fast as the deer.
The deer farms must have some powerful friends in the Legislature, especially if they have read a review that was recently completed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor. The review is scathing.
Here are some of the findings:
• Minnesota law does not require that deer and elk identification tags be read and recorded when completing an animal inventory.
• CWD is an always fatal, neurodegenerative disease found in both farmed and wild deer and elk.
• BAH staff do not systematically analyze whether deer and elk producers submit tissue samples for CWD testing for all deceased animals.
• From 2014 to 2017, about one-third of producers that reported dead deer or elk failed to submit tissues from at least one of those animals for CWD testing.
• BAH has, in some instances, failed to enforce deer and elk regulations.
• BAH and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have struggled to appropriately share the information they both require to respond to CWD outbreaks.
It’s that last statement that should concern deer hunters and anyone who cares about the state’s deer population.
The state Legislature must address these problems concerning CWD or put our entire deer population at risk, not to mention what is left of the moose population.
Hunters need to educate themselves on these issues and be vigilant about them. West Nile is not a huge health risk, unless you’re a bird. CWD has not been transmitted to humans yet, but the deer, elk and moose population could be decimated. Time to pay attention and keep your sights on West Nile and CWD.