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Bovine TB in NW Minn. attracting state, federal attention

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Northwest Minnesota's fight against bovine tuberculosis gained attention Monday on both state and federal fronts.

Area farmers and ranchers met with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who called for a harder line in controlling bovine TB, and U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman announced he'd sent a letter asking the Office of Management and Budget to release emergency funds for the problem.

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The discovery of four cattle herds since October infected with bovine TB is leading the U.S. Department of Agriculture to place stricter regulations on the movement of cattle across state lines to prevent the spread of the disease. A total of 11 herds have been discovered with the disease since July 2005, mostly in Roseau and Beltrami counties.

Pawlenty visited Roseau County Monday to highlight measures to contain the disease, which also has been detected in area deer. Agriculture officials are worried that deer will spread the disease to more cattle or dairy herds.

The governor warned those who feed deer that they could face fines and jail time as enforcement of a feeding ban is stepped up. He also announced expanded out-of-season deer hunting permits to cull more deer in the infected area and urged farmers to fence in their feeding areas to keep the deer out.

Coleman, R-Minn., said in a statement that he sent a letter Friday to OMB Director Jim Nussle asking him to promptly approve emergency funding from the USDA to address bovine TB.

Because of the recent discoveries, USDA regulations call for downgrading Minnesota's status when more than three herds are discovered within a 12-month period, with the current downgrade the third of five steps from Modified Accredited Advanced to Modified Accredited.

"Minnesota's cattle industry provides thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the state's economy," Coleman said. "If not properly addressed, the bovine TB crisis could cause major damage to this vital industry. The economic threat of this situation is growing and it is my hope that Director Nussle will approve this critical funding promptly as possible. The faster we can allocate this money, the faster Minnesota can be on the path to TB-free status."

When a case of bovine TB is suspected, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's first step is to confirm the detection through testing at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, Coleman said. If bovine TB is confirmed, the state has the primary responsibility for implementing quarantines, while cooperating with both state and APHIS to do additional testing and conduct epidemiological investigations. APHIS provides technical support.

APHIS and state officials cooperatively trace the movements of animals that left and entered the confirmed herd in order to determine a potential source of infection and to evaluate potential spread to other cattle herds, he added. APHIS works through the state veterinarian to pay indemnity for depopulated herds.

Coleman a week ago met with a delegation of Minnesota Farm Bureau members, including Beltrami County, who outlined the problems farmers face. Several counties, including Beltrami County, have passed resolutions asking that deer and elk herds be culled in the area to prevent the spread of bovine TB.

Efforts are also under way to gain USDA approval of a split state, confining the stricter Modified Accredited status to northwest Minnesota.

Pawlenty said he supports legislation that would establish a voluntary buyout program for 19 herds in the infected area, totaling about 1,000 head of cattle, as long as there were incentives to restart operations within a few years. State Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said reaction from those farmers is mixed.

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, introduced a bill Monday that would create a bovine TB management zone of 10 miles around the area where five presumptive tuberculosis-positive deer sampled during a 2006 hunter-harvested surveillance effort.

Farmers within that zone would be eligible to apply to the State Board of Animal Health to have their herds bought out by the state, according to Skoe's bill. It would also require fencing of herds from deer in the affected zone.

Skoe's bill would also give $400,000 to the North Central Research Center at Grand Rapids for a study of the life cycle of bovine TB in pasture.

Pawlenty and Hugoson attended a town meeting in Wannaska, visited a farm and spoke to the media in Roseau.

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The story includes material from The Associated Press.

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