The discovery of a whitetail deer with bovine tuberculosis in northwest Beltrami County doesn't concern state agriculture officials.
"It was kind of expected, and is the reason why we need to continue monitoring to be sure there's not something out there," Robin Kinney, Minnesota assistant agriculture commissioner, said in a recent interview.
The TB-positive deer was a 6-year-old male, and showed clinical signs of bovine TB, which later was confirmed by laboratory analysis. No other deer removed this winter showed similar signs of infection.
"We fully expected that the deer population was carrying some of this, so to find one is a good sign," Kinney said.
The older deer makes state officials believe that bovine TB among deer may be confined to a certain age class, since the infected deer found since testing began in 2005 have been born in 2005 or earlier.
"It was an older deer that was found," Kinney said. "That's great, and it means that we need to continue that diligence to seek it out. I don't expect we're going to have any problems, but that's why we're staying on high alert on it."
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed Minnesota a split-state status, meaning that outside a bovine TB management area in northwest Beltrami County and Roseau County, the state remains TB-free.
Cattle sold within the bovine TB management area must undergo strict testing regimes before being sold or transported across state lines.
Cattle are believed to contract bovine TB from infected free-ranging deer, so the DNR has been working with USDA sharpshooters during the winter to cull the deer herd in that area.
The DNR has also conducted surveillance for TB in hunter-harvested deer within a 15-mile radius of the once-infected farms every fall since 2005. To date, more than 6,000 deer taken by hunters and sharp-shooters have been tested.
"The older ages of infected deer, the lack of infection in younger deer and the close proximity of infected deer suggest the disease is not efficiently spreading in the deer population," Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program coordinator, said last month.
DNR sampled 1,246 deer taken in the Bovine TB surveillance zone during the fall 2008 hunt. Spring sharp-shooting efforts, that began in March and concluded April 30, have resulted in an additional 738 deer being removed near previously infected cattle operations inside the management zone.
DNR will continue monitoring for the disease through sampling of hunter-harvested deer, Carstensen said. Hunter-harvested surveillance will be conducted within the larger bovine TB surveillance zone in fall 2009, with a sampling goal of 1,800 deer. Surveillance will continue every year until no positive animals are detected for five consecutive years, she said.
The 2008 Legislature, led by Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, put in place the bovine TB management zone and provided buyouts of herds that may be infected and ordered fencing around remaining herds to keep out deer.
The Agriculture Department's bovine TB czar is Joe Martin, appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
"He's done just a great job shepherding this through and being sure that producers are being taken care of," said Kinney. "Funding-wise, we've had a great partnership, especially with the legislative folks up here. They understand the issue, they've been working very closely hand-in-hand with Joe and the DNR to be sure we've got that balance."
"This should not delay Minnesota's goal of regaining TB-Free Status," Martin said last month of the new deer discovery. "We have been in contact with USDA and they have assured us this finding in the deer will not impact cattle movements or the state's TB status."
The state's status is only impacted by finding additional TB-positive cattle herds. The last known infected herd was depopulated earlier this year as part of the state's buyout program. There are no other active cattle investigations ongoing at this time, Martin said.
The buyout of herds is complete, Kinney said. "Money-wise this coming year it's going to be continuing to provide some education and management opportunities for as long as these folks are going to need to be out, be sure that we're monitoring that deer population so that we can get the status back as quickly as we can."
The issue continues to be a priority of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, which lobbied last year for the special management zone and funding for cattle buyouts.
"Bovine TB is still a priority for us in Farm Bureau," Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said in a recent interview. "We need to do everything and anything we can to eradicate that, both in the cattle and the deer herds. So we'll watch that very closely."
Minnesota state agencies and USDA have entered into a productive partnership in an effort to eradicate bovine TB, Kinney said.
"We have a very good partnership, and I have say that's to the fact that Commissioner (Gene) Hugoson has served so long in a leadership role," she said. "That consistency has been extremely important, not only for Minnesota but for APHIS and the other divisions. He is recognized nationally as a leader and has great insight."
USDA's Animal and Public Health Information System establishes threat levels for animal diseases, and determines levels of bovine TB classifications.
Kinney also credited U.S. House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, in whose district the bovine TB management zone lies.
"He just does a tremendous job as an advocate for agriculture, and his role as chairman of the House Ag Committee certainly helped Minnesota come forward," Kinney said. "We've got great dialogue with him."