Sharpshooters kill more than 1,200 deer in NW Minnesota in battle against bovine TB
A total of 1,207 deer were killed by state and federal sharpshooters, hunters and landowners the past six months in bovine tuberculosis-infected northwest Minnesota, the state Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday.
The sharpshooting effort to remove deer started in February and ended Friday, the DNR said. Free-ranging deer, believed to be carriers of bovine TB to cattle, were targets of removal since the deer-hunting season closed last fall.
The concentrated bovine TB area for deer removal is basically northwest Beltrami County and southeast Roseau County, in the Skime area.
The deer population in the 164-square-mile core of the bovine TB disease management area was estimated at 800 animals during an aerial survey conducted in January before sharpshooting efforts began, the DNR said. Aerial sharpshooters took 416 deer and ground sharpshooters took 546 deer in and near the core area, bringing the 2008 sharpshooting total to 962 animals.
During the regular deer seasons, 1,449 deer were harvested in the bovine TB deer permit area, the DNR said. Hunters harvested an additional 120 deer a January special hunt. Since the close of the deer hunting seasons, landowners have taken an additional 125 deer in an area that was expanded to include private lands to the north of deer permit Area 101. In total, 2,656 deer have been taken from September 2007 to May 2008.
"The large take is evidence of the extraordinary effort that has been underway since autumn," Dave Schad, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director, said in a statement. "This has been a highly successful operation that has gone a long way toward achieving our goal of eliminating bovine TB in deer."
The state of Minnesota is under the federal designation of Modified Accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the third of five categories which outlines strict regulations for the testing and movement of cattle across state lines for bovine TB.
Hopes are to see the state split into two zones, with a concentrated bovine TB management area in northwest Minnesota, and classifying the rest of the state as TB Free.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law last week measures to allow the Minnesota Board of Animal Health authority to increase livestock testing, tighten restrictions on animal movement, provide cost-share assistance for fencing in certain areas and offers to "buy out" livestock owners in the bovine TB management zone.
"This disease is an economic burden for our beef producers, and we are committed to eradicating it as quickly as possible," state Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Joe Martin, the state's bovine TB response coordinator, said last week.
"We had strong, bipartisan support for this legislation from legislators, producers, and industry groups such as the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association," he said.
"This critical legislation will provide the Board of Animal Health the authority they need to restrict movement of livestock within the bovine TB management zone and implement split-state status," said Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap. "The bill also provides significant resources to control and eradicate bovine TB, including a voluntary herd buyout for cattle producers in the management zone and cost-share money for fencing."
Paap added that the new law "bans wildlife feeding in the zone and establishes a temporary assessment of $1 per head on all beef cattle sold in Minnesota. Money collected from this assessment will go to the Board of Animal Health for bovine TB control efforts. This assessment shows how cattlemen across Minnesota are willing to contribute toward the eradication of bovine TB."
Since the initial 2005 discovery of bovine TB in Minnesota, the state has identified 11 infected beef cattle herds--all in the northwest Minnesota counties of Beltrami and Roseau, the state Animal Health Board said. In addition, 20 infected deer have been confirmed to date in the same area, with several additional suspect deer awaiting final test results.
"This bill puts Minnesota in the position of being a national leader in controlling and combating bovine TB," said Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, an author of the bill.
"Up to this point, there really has been no road map for dealing with this issue and other states have had only marginal success," Skoe said. "This bill helps Minnesota lead the way toward eradicating the disease in our state and helping other states develop aggressive and successful plans."
The final legislative plan will lay the groundwork for USDA split-state status in order to focus bovine TB eradication efforts only in affected areas, he said. The plan offers cattle producers an option to accept an animal-buyout or extensive fencing to control animal movement and help control the spread of the disease.
In addition, herd testing will continue to be required until TB-free status is regained, and deer eradication efforts will continue. The Department of Agriculture, Board of Animal Health and DNR all cooperated on the comprehensive plan, he said.
"With this bill, we'll make significant progress toward no additional TB-positive test results in the state," Skoe said.
Landowners and tenants, and their agents designated in writing, can continue to take deer without a permit in the landowner/tenant area under the provisions of a special emergency rule that took effect March 31, said the DNR's Schad. The rule is currently scheduled to expire Aug. 31, but the rule may be modified or ended earlier in the summer based on discussions with local residents and landowners. A final decision will be made in the next several weeks.
The DNR will finalize plans for the fall hunting seasons in that area by July, he said. Specific details on permit area boundaries, special and regular hunts, and other provisions will be announced mid-summer.
Schad added that he appreciates the cooperation of private landowners during a difficult time. "We couldn't have accomplished what we did without the assistance of local citizens and federal sharpshooters. Both deserve our thanks," he said.