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Fight against CWD in deer continues at the State Capitol

ST. PAUL, Minn. (KTTC) – Concerns about chronic wasting disease are heating up at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a deadly neurological disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

“It may take over a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness and other neurologic symptoms. CWD is fatal to animals and there are no treatments or vaccines.”

State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are hoping to crack down on the spread of CWD before it’s too late.

On Monday, DFL Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn of Roseville introduced a comprehensive plan to immediately address chronic wasting disease. The plan’s four points include:

“We have known about CWD for over a decade, almost two decades, and it is now more prevalent in Minnesota than ever,” said Rep. Becker-Finn.

Fourteen deer tested positive for CWD in southeast Minnesota last fall. The number has continued to rise since CWD was first detected in the Preston area in 2016.

“I think there is an appetite, and there certainly is more of an appetite now than there ever has been for us to do something,” added the DFL lawmaker.

There’s about 500,000 firearm deer hunters in Minnesota. Some of those hunters feel that if CWD is not addressed now, it will hurt the state’s $1.3 billion hunting economy.

“It’s going to get out of hand and destroy rural economies, destroy that family bond, and we’re going to see even more problems that come from it,” said hunter, John Miller.

Becker-Finn told reporters she’s not at a point where she would consider eliminating deer and elk farms, but the idea isn’t off the table. “We’re not at that point yet, but clearly the things we’re doing right now aren’t working. So things need to be beefed up.”

That suggestion is something GOP Rep. Greg Davids of Preston thinks is too premature. “She’s a metro legislator getting into a rural issue, and I don’t think that’s the answer,” he said.

University of Minnesota researchers met with Rep. Davids in January with an idea: give them $1.8 million in funding to develop a CWD live test so they can test deer while they’re still alive. Deer are currently tested when they’re brought in by hunters, already dead.

“If we can develop a test, that’s a step forward. It doesn’t totally solve the problem, but we have to take every step we can.” Davids believes everyone in St. Paul wants to find a solution to the problem, but the issue is how to go about it.

However, Rep. Becker-Finn has a similar bill to Davids regarding the $1.8 million in funding for the University of Minnesota, but Davids insists the bill was his idea since university researchers approached him about it earlier this year. Davids introduced his bill in the House last Thursday. Becker-Finn was supposed to introduce hers Monday.

Right now, there is no cure for CWD, and no sure-fire way to get rid of it. The disease has never been confirmed in people, but it is similar to mad cow disease, which has spread across species.

However, the disease does pose a risk to monkeys. According to the CDC, “scientists believe CWD proteins (prions) likely spread between animals through body fluids like feces, saliva, blood, or urine, either through direct contact or indirectly through environmental contamination of soil, food or water.” Chronic wasting disease has been shown to experimentally infect squirrel monkeys, and also laboratory mice that carry some human genes.

Shannon Rousseau

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