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CWD suspected in wild deer shot southwest of Climax, Minnesota, DNR says

A North Dakota man who was supervising his daughter during Minnesota’s recent youth deer season voluntarily had the deer she shot southwest of Climax tested, paying for the private test as a routine matter of course. When preliminary results came back positive, he contacted the DNR.

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CLIMAX, Minn. -- Chronic wasting disease is suspected in a wild deer that was shot southwest of Climax, Minnesota, near the Red River, marking the first case of its kind along Minnesota’s border with North Dakota, the Department of Natural Resources reported Wednesday, Nov. 3.

Dave Olfelt, director of the DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, confirmed the suspected positive case Wednesday in a phone call, calling it a “CWD setback.”

“We just found out (Tuesday),” Olfelt said. “We’re scrambling to get the news out, scrambling to get some surveillance going ahead of the season, and we’re scrambling to connect” with wildlife staff from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Climax is near the Red River on U.S. Highway 75 about 20 miles southwest of Crookston.

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With the suspected finding, hunters who harvest deer in permit areas 261 and 262, which are located between Moorhead on the south and Oslo, Minnesota, on the north, are strongly encouraged to leave samples at self-service stations in Nielsville and Climax, the DNR said. Once exact locations are established for these two stations, the DNR will post details and instructions on its website, alongside information about sampling stations in CWD surveillance, management and control zones.

According to Seth Goreham, acting wildlife research manager for the DNR, a North Dakota man who was hunting with his daughter during Minnesota’s recent youth deer season voluntarily had the deer she shot southwest of Climax tested, paying for the private test as a routine matter of course.

No cases of CWD had been reported in wild or captive deer in nearby areas, and no CWD sampling requirements were in place. When preliminary results of the private test came back positive, the man contacted the DNR.

“He’s an avid outdoorsman, and he has been getting all of his deer tested,” Goreham said. “As far as hunters go, this guy did everything by the book. It was awesome.”

Confirmation of the initial test result is expected next week, Goreham said.

Despite the suspected finding, mandatory testing won’t be in effect for the two permit areas for this year’s deer season, Goreham said.

“Thanks to this hunter’s early discovery, we have the chance to act quickly and be proactive,” Goreham said. “We’re asking hunters to submit samples so we can determine the extent of CWD in the area and take steps to help control the spread.”

DNR staff will be checking the voluntary collection sites every other day, Goreham said. Testing is free for deer harvested in permit areas 261 and 262 as well as any other deer permit area designated a CWD surveillance, management or control zone. Hunters outside a CWD zone can collect lymph node samples and pay a small fee for a CWD test. Complete video instructions on how to properly collect a lymph node sample and laboratory information is available on the DNR website.

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The DNR continues to take aggressive steps to combat CWD and its spread. So far, 118 cases of CWD have been documented in Minnesota’s wild deer herd, most of them in the southeastern part of the state. The disease is also being actively and aggressively managed near Bemidji, the Brainerd Lakes area and in the south metropolitan area.

In North Dakota, CWD has been confirmed in 44 wild deer since 2009, when the disease first was detected in hunting unit 3F2 in southwest North Dakota. CWD hasn’t been found in any North Dakota hunting units along the Red River.

With the suspected finding, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is scrambling to set up voluntary collection sites for hunters to submit deer heads for testing in Grand Forks, Fargo and Hillsboro, all in hunting Unit 2B, said Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian for Game and Fish in Bismarck.

A Game and Fish staffer will be onsite at the Hillsboro station Saturdays and Sundays to collect deer lymph node samples for testing from hunters who want to save their deer heads for mounting, Bahnson said.

North Dakota's deer gun season opens at noon Friday, Nov. 5. As was the case in Minnesota, the suspected CWD-positive deer near Climax came as a surprise, Bahnson said.

"In a situation like this, our next step is to always try to gather more information to put the finding in context," Bahnson said. "We really hope to capitalize on the hunting season to try to get as many samples from Unit 2B as we can, and hopefully see if if this looks like more of an isolated situation, or maybe there's a little bit of a focus of infection in the population there."

In the meantime, the DNR's Goreham said he recommends hunters in the area take precautions when disposing of deer carcasses.

“I’m not wanting to raise an alarm or anything, but I would say if you can dispose of the spinal column and the carcass in a Dumpster, that’s probably the best way to go,” he said. “If you want to get your deer tested, please do, we’ll have test sites available, and work on disposal of the carcasses. If we can avoid having anything disposed of on the landscape, it would be better.”

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CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects cervids, including white-tailed deer. It is found globally and in about half of the states in the U.S. CWD remains relatively rare in Minnesota and North Dakota, but it is a concern as there is no known cure.

More info: mndnr.gov/cwd.

MNDNR deer photo
A deer taken during Minnesota's youth deer season along the Red River southwest of Climax, Minnesota, is suspected to have chronic wasting disease, preliminary test results show. The Department of Natural Resources announced the suspected case, the first along Minnesota's border with North Dakota, on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Contributed / Minnesota DNR

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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