Eradication Of Bovine TB Means End To DNR Deer Testing In Northwest Minnesota

I was out of the office Monday, or I would have posted this item from the Department of Natural Resources that will come as good news to everyone who hunts deer or raises cattle in northwest Minnesota.

The DNR announced Monday that bovine tuberculosis appears to have been eradicated from deer herds near Skime, Minn., where the contagious respiratory disease was found in cattle and wild deer in 2005.

The DNR tested 325 deer near Skime during last fall’s hunting season, and none of the animals sampled positive for  the disease. That marks the third consecutive year that deer in the area have tested free of the disease and means  testing efforts now will end in the 164-square-mile disease management zone.

“We have accomplished what many believed was not possible,” Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor, said in a statement. “By reducing the incidence of TB in wild deer to an undetectable level and hopefully eliminating it, Minnesota has become an international example on how to successfully respond to a disease outbreak that has a significant wildlife component.”

Cooperation from farmers, landowners and hunters allowed DNR and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to successfully combat the disease outbreak. Bovine TB is a progressive and chronic bacterial disease that primarily affects cattle but also infects wildlife.

“These people made significant sacrifices to make sure Minnesota livestock and wildlife are free of this disease,” Bill Hartmann, state veterinarian and executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said in a statement. “Their cooperation does not go unnoticed.”

In a news release, the DNR said Minnesota regained its TB-free status in cattle in 2011, but the agency continued testing wild deer until achieving three consecutive years of negative findings for bovine TB. This provides assurance that the disease has been controlled in wildlife as well.

Efforts to eradicate the disease, which included aggressive hunting and federal sharpshooters both on the ground and in the air, greatly reduced deer numbers in the affected area and caused hard feelings among local residents and hunting camp owners. With the disease apparently eradicated, the DNR said it now will begin implementing more conservative regulations, including limiting the harvest of antlerless deer, to build back the herd.

“Deer populations are resilient and history has shown that they can recover in a short period of time when harvest is restricted,” Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader, said.

Carstensen said the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and its Roseau River chapter were particularly helpful during disease surveillance efforts by sponsoring a firearm raffle each year to help encourage hunters to submit harvested deer for sampling.