Hines deer farmer fights Board of Animal Health after illegal dumping of CWD-infected deer carcasses
The owner of the Hines deer farm, whose herd was infected with chronic wasting disease in early 2021, has been identified as Dean T. Page.
BEMIDJI — The owner of the Hines deer farm, whose herd was infected with chronic wasting disease in early 2021, has been identified as Dean T. Page.
According to documents from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, Page, 49, is refusing to pay for a $194,000 exclusionary fence constructed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources around 11 acres of Beltrami County-managed tax-forfeited land where he admitted to illegally dumping deer carcasses from his farm that were allegedly infected with CWD.
Due to the dumping, environmental contamination allegedly occurred in the area, as remains from dead CWD-infected deer can serve as a source of further infection to other deer and can also be spread by scavengers, water movement and people.
The misfolded prions that cause the fatal neurological disease, similar to mad cow disease, are also known to persist in the environment for up to 20 years.
According to the documents obtained by the Pioneer, after the dumpsite was discovered, Page was ordered by the agency to remove trees and vegetation around the contaminated area and construct a 10-foot-high barrier with 3,000 feet of woven wire fencing.
When Page refused to do so, the DNR stepped in and created a 10-foot-high, 120-foot-wide exclusionary fence -- also absorbing its cost -- that would prevent deer and people from accessing the site, reducing the risk of prion exposure.
Page’s ongoing non-compliance to bear the fence’s cost and maintenance for the next 20 years established in the Board’s Remedial Action Order has produced a legal case, which is now under the discretion of Administrative Law Judge Barbara Case.
Timeline of events
Page, who went to Blackduck High School and whose family is from the area, registered his deer farm in May 2018. The farm is about 20 miles north of Bemidji and is located close to another property owned by his father, Dennis.
Page’s criminal history includes a number of motor vehicle violations in five Minnesota counties, obstructing legal process and interfering with a police officer and other gross misdemeanor charges. He also has a 2017 domestic assault conviction for causing fear of immediate bodily harm or death.
Page’s herd was initially quarantined in October 2020 due to receiving 11 animals from a Winona County source herd that was linked to a Houston County CWD detection. His deer were considered CWD-exposed, leading to the quarantine.
According to the quarantine order, “Page was expressly barred from moving any farmed deer, including carcasses, onto or off of the site without an express written approval from the Board.”
On March 17, 2021, Page informed the Board that two of his deer had died. Testing of the carcasses designated the quarantined herd as CWD-positive and it was not released from quarantine.
Five days later, Page killed eight CWD-exposed animals in his quarantined herd and reported that one deer had died prior to the culling. He submitted samples to the Board for CWD testing.
On April 7, the Board of Animal Health publicly announced that a 3-year-old doe tested positive for CWD on an undisclosed deer farm in Beltrami County. It was the furthest north in Minnesota that a CWD case had ever been detected.
The following day, an agent from the Board contacted Page to determine how he disposed of the carcasses from the CWD-exposed animals that he killed in March. He reported that he dumped the carcasses onto a nearby tax-forfeited county-owned and managed property, which abuts land owned by his father.
Page also reported that he had disposed of a significant number of fawns, which had died in the winter of 2020 there. The agent visited Dennis’ property, where he showed them where his son had disposed of the animals.
In late April, DNR wildlife staff performed a walkthrough of the disposal site, where they found scattered bones and determined that the scattering was most likely caused by scavengers.
“Page made no attempt to bury the carcasses, let alone at a depth adequate to prevent scavengers, compounding the problems caused by the illegal dumping of CWD-exposed carcasses,” Board documents said.
In early May, the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach at the University of Minnesota visited the site to recover carcass remains for CWD testing. MNPRO identified the remains of approximately 10 to 12 deer there and found animal remains that tested positive for CWD.
However, according to documents, due to the decomposed state of the deer, it was impossible to use conventional brain-stem CWD testing, so instead, MNPRO used an experimental method for CWD testing known as Real-time quaking-induced conversion or RT-QuIC.
MNPRO reported that marrow from a leg bone tested positive for CWD and that the results indicated CWD prions at the disposal site.
On May 11, USDA Wildlife Services depopulated Page’s herd. Samples from all animals were collected by Board agents and submitted to National Veterinary Services Laboratories for CWD testing.
On May 20, the Board received CWD test results for 54 animals. Twelve animals were confirmed to be infected with CWD. Page received his indemnity funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on or about June 2.
Now, the Board of Animal Health alleges that Page broke the law in multiple ways. This includes moving quarantined deer off his farm -- thus breaking the quarantine order -- and dumping their carcasses on public land. It also alleges that he failed to test all of his farm's dead deer for CWD and failed to maintain accurate herd records, including unreported deer deaths.
According to a memorandum of law in opposition to the Board’s Remedial Action Order, Page considers the fence “entirely unnecessary, ineffective, and unreasonable.”
His main arguments for dismissal include:
- Relevant state and federal authorities demonstrate that five years is sufficient for fence maintenance, and the Board has not produced substantial evidence showing that a longer period of 20 years is necessary.
- While the Board’s order is that the fence be 10-feet tall, relevant state and federal authorities demonstrate that an 8-foot tall fence is sufficient.
- The number of years prions remain infectious is disputed.
- RT-QuIC testing used by University of Minnesota researchers is not sanctioned by the USDA and not approved for regulatory action. Therefore, there is no proof of CWD prions at the dumpsite.
Veterinarian Clifford Shipley, an officer of the Illinois Deer Farmers Association and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, was consulted as an expert to further support Page’s rebuttal. He described the Board’s order as “vindictive” against Page.
“It's my belief that the Board was unhappy with Mr. Page's actions and sought to make an example of him,” Shipley said.
He went on to argue: "There is no reliable evidence that any of the carcasses were CWD positive. Without positive CWD proof, no remediation steps are necessary.”
Additionally, Shipley asserted that constructing a fence and maintaining it around the disposal site would be in vain, even if the site were contaminated. He reasoned that birds and scavengers could still access the site and move infected articles -- or even their droppings from consuming infected remains -- outside of the fenced area.
“In sum, the fence, regardless of height or maintenance period, serves no purpose whatsoever,” Shipley said. “It is my belief it was simply an effort by the Board to punish Mr. Page, and to make the Board feel as if it was doing ‘something’ to limit the spread when in effect it has no impact.”
Community and hunting impacts
According to the BAH documents, the Board has fielded numerous concerns raised by the public, including landowners, farmers and neighbors near the dumpsite, regarding Page’s CWD-positive herd and questioning his illegal disposal of CWD-exposed carcasses.
It is also of great concern to nearby Native American tribes, including Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth Nations, who share the Board’s worry about the potential spread of CWD to the wild deer population.
According to the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, many wildlife managers now view CWD as the biggest threat to deer species and to big game hunting in North America. A healthy deer herd is critical to the Minnesota economy as deer hunting is a $500 million dollar industry.
As of yet, the DNR has not detected CWD in any wild deer in the management zone around Hines.
But, because of the concern of CWD in Minnesota, the 2021-2022 hunting season has seen DNR-designated CWD surveillance zones in which CWD testing by hunters is required; late CWD hunts that offer deer hunters additional harvest opportunities; and deer feeding bans.
This fall, depending on CWD positives detected in management zones in the state, there could be increased bag limits, hunting opportunities and carcass movement restrictions.