Deer farmers reject DNR's emergency rule pausing movement of deer amid CWD spread

White-tailed deer
The Minnesota Deer Farmers Association says the DNR's emergency order is "improper" and "based on inaccurate and incomplete evidence."
Courtesy Steve Gifford

The trade organization that represents Minnesota’s deer farmers pushed back Wednesday against an emergency order that halts the movement of deer from farm to farm.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Tuesday imposed a statewide ban on the movement of farmed white-tailed deer, continuing through the end of July. The ban came in the form of an emergency order in response to a concerning outbreak of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in northern Minnesota’s deer country.

In a statement, the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association (MDFA) said it opposes the emergency rule.

The organization stressed that minimizing the spread of CWD, a contagious, always-fatal neurological disorder in cervids, is important.

"The DNR’s emergency rulemaking is improper, however, because it is based on inaccurate and incomplete evidence and because the Legislature delegated authority to the Board of Animal Health, not the DNR, to regulate farmed deer," the statement said.

Farmed deer are bought, sold and moved between farms for breeding purposes or to manage herd size. The DNR’s rule included an exemption allowing deer to be transported for slaughter.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health regulates the state’s 259 captive elk and deer herds. The agency says currently 174 farms have white-tailed deer, but the board does not have the authority to issue emergency rules.

Under the board’s current rules, farms in areas where the disease is endemic in wild deer have restrictions on the movement of animals. Farms can be exempt from the rule if they take steps — such as installing double fences — to prevent nose-to-nose contact between captive deer and wild deer.

The agency recently tried to expedite a rule change that would restrict movement of farmed deer from areas where the disease is considered endemic to areas where it is not, but an administrative law judge denied the request last month. The board instead will now proceed with implementing the rule through its standard rulemaking process and is expected to approve a draft rule change at a special meeting in June.

The DNR, which has emergency rulemaking powers, is responsible for maintaining the health of the state’s wildlife populations.

According to DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, the ban is meant to curtail the spread of the disease, which can spread when captive deer from infected herds are transferred to other parts of the state and pass it on to the wild deer they encounter.

"We want to make sure that we can protect the wild herd by locating all infected farmed deer in the state,” Strommen said when the rule was announced. “And that's much more difficult to do if they're still moving around."

While the deer farmers association opposes the DNR emergency rule, the organization is not encouraging farmers to defy the ban on deer movement, said association lobbyist Tim Spreck.

“Any farmer who violates this order does so at their own risk,” he said. “The MDFA is in opposition to the DNR overstepping its jurisdiction but is not recommending non-compliance."

Spreck said some farmers with contractual obligations to produce deer will need to decide if they will break those contracts or defy the rule.

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