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Department of Natural Resources Official Warns That Chronic Waste Disease Still a Threat

Landowners in affected hunting area aren't taking the disease seriously, state official warns 

Minnesota's leading authority on chronic wasting disease (CWD) wants deer hunters and landowners to fight harder against the disease despite signs that expanded hunting has chipped away at CWD's prevalence in Fillmore County.

"That's when you put the pressure on … not take it off,'' said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In an interview this week, Cornicelli said the DNR has struggled recently to draw in good numbers of hunters and landowners to harvest more whitetails in the disease-management zone that includes rural Preston and the area around Forestville Mystery Cave State Park.

For two consecutive years, most of the county has been pounded by extra hunting and shooting to thin the local herd and stop the state's largest-ever outbreak of CWD, an always-fatal neurological disease in deer, elk and moose.

DNR's latest attempt to curb the outbreak targets 375 people who own private land around places where CWD was detected in wild deer. They've all been offered shooting permits, but only about 50 have signed up.

"How do we get more people to come along?'' Cornicelli said. "Folks aren't taking this as seriously as we are.''

Like last year, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association is adding an incentive for participation. Anyone who takes a deer with a shooting permit this month or next month will be entered in a free drawing for a new muzzleloader rifle.

"We take CWD very seriously and we want to be active on the issues,'' said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Deer Hunters Association.

The shooting permits will be effective until mid-March. Only landowners or their designees can take deer. There is no public hunting opportunity. All deer will be sampled for CWD, including fawns.

Under a related deer-reduction plan last month, hunters harvested 374 whitetails in a special late-season hunt throughout Fillmore County. But that paled in comparison to the late-season hunt in January 2017 when 900 whitetails fell and were tested for CWD.