The outdoor news from Minnesota's neighbor to the east is sickening, at the very least.
Wisconsin is preparing to kill 25,000 deer in an effort to eradicate chronic wasting disease, a wildlife ailment that has the state worried it might lose millions of dollars when deer-hunting season rolls around. While the mass extermination is distasteful it's prompted by the potential loss of millions of dollars in hunting license fees as well as food, lodging and equipment sales from the state's 690,000 deer hunters.
Minnesota game officials and the outstate business people who rely heavily on the late fall tourism boost that comes with deer-hunting season cringe when they think about the impact chronic wasting disease might have in this state. No case has been recorded in Minnesota but it's on everyone's mind in light of Wisconsin's problems.
The first concern is that fear of the possibility of tainted venison might persuade deer hunters to stay out of the woods this fall. While there's no evidence the wildlife disease can harm humans, many people remember the mad-cow disease that infected humans and resulted in brain disorders. For many outstate Minnesota families, venison is more than just an alternative to beef or poultry, it's a way of stretching the family food budget through the long winter months.
A sharp reduction in the number of Minnesota deer hunters would have a severe economic impact on outstate Minnesota. Deer hunting is thought to be, at a minimum, a $250-million shot in the arm for the state's economy.
A reduced deer-kill during the hunting season would also pose big problems for Minnesota drivers. Capt. Kent O'Grady of the State Patrol cited Department of Public Safety figures that show that 5,520 were killed by Minnesota vehicles in 2001. Four of those accidents resulted in human fatalities, 424 resulted in personal injuries and 5,092 resulted in property damage to vehicles. Those numbers will only rise if deer hunters don't turn out in their usual numbers.
The Minnesota DNR, trying to stay on top of this serious wildlife disease, will test tissue samples from more than 5,000 deer this fall, up from a sampling of only 45 deer last year. The 2001 sampling revealed no signs of the chronic disease.
Critics of the mass deer slaying in Wisconsin underestimate the seriousness of this issue. If the disease is eventually discovered in Minnesota state wildlife officials must act fast.
The Wisconsin chronic wasting cases mark the first time the disease has been detected east of the Mississippi River, where deer herds are much more concentrated than in the western states such as Colorado and Wyoming. Chronic wasting disease is bound to spread much faster in north central states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Even though the state faces a huge budget deficit next year lawmakers should not be stingy if the DNR requests funds in an attempt to eradicate chronic wasting disease. It's a problem that poses a grave threat to the survival of Minnesota's deer herd and one that one will only grow worse with neglect.
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