St. Louis County calls for statewide action on chronic wasting disease

Whitetail buck
A white-tailed buck in a Twin Cities park.
Tim Post | MPR News 2008

The St. Louis County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on cervid farms. Those are farms that raise primarily deer and elk in captivity.

There are 257 cervid farms in Minnesota and 172 that raise captive white-tailed deer, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. Those farms have played a role in the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Minnesota, including a case in Beltrami County earlier this year that marked the northernmost spread of the disease in the state.

That caught the attention of St. Louis County Commissioner Patrick Boyle.

"Enough is enough, and I hope this [resolution] leads to the domino effect that we're looking at,” he said. “I just really want to kindle that fire and start the movement for, I hope, a success next year in legislation."

For Boyle, success would include a statewide moratorium on new cervid farms and a permanent ban on movement of animals.

The resolution approved by the commission calls for those actions by the state but also sets the stage for county action.

“This moratorium does have teeth in it at a county level,” said Boyle. “We would put a freeze on any new cervid farm that may come up in the future.”

The county will hold a hearing later this month to consider a revised zoning ordinance placing a moratorium on any new captive cervid farms in St. Louis County, which is in the state’s Arrowhead region.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health licenses and regulates the farms, and a recently passed state law also gives the Department of Natural Resources regulatory authority. A DNR official told a legislative hearing on Tuesday that the two agencies have started conducting joint inspections of cervid farms.

Boyle said he will lobby other county commissions to join in the effort to pressure the state legislature to act.

Boyle said while there are only three cervid farms in St. Louis County. Chronic wasting disease is a significant threat to the wild white-tailed deer herd, and deer hunting is important to the economy and culture of northern Minnesota.

In nearly two decades of trying to manage the spread of chronic wasting disease in Minnesota, the DNR has spent nearly $14 million, according to Wildlife Health Program Supervisor Michelle Carstensen.

The agency expects to spend about $2 million this fall testing deer killed by hunters to gauge the spread of the disease in the wild deer herd.

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