ST. PAUL (AP) -- The Department of Natural Resources on Friday said it would seek a ban on the feeding of deer in Minnesota, a step aimed at reducing the spread of chronic wasting disease.
While the fatal brain disease hasn't yet been found in deer in Minnesota, it exists in deer in Wisconsin and South Dakota. Authorities in those states and others have been working to slow the spread of the disease, known as CWD.
The Minnesota DNR said it would ask the Legislature, when it convenes in January, to ban deer feeding and prohibit hunters from bringing whole deer carcasses into the state. The agency will also ask for an increase deer license fees of $1, with proceeds designated to pay for fighting CWD.
The proposed ban on deer feeding would not extend to other animals nor would it apply to agricultural practices such as salt licks for cattle or leaving round bales in fields. But mineral blocks and salt blocks intended for deer wouldn't be allowed, under the proposal.
Scientists aren't sure precisely how CWD is spread, though evidence suggests it is through direct contact between animals.
Mike DonCarlos, wildlife research manager for the DNR, said the feeding ban makes sense because deer tend to get close and touch noses over feed and salt blocks.
"If CWD was present in the state, artificial feeding would likely increase the risk of its spread," DonCarlos said.
The disease originated in Colorado and Wyoming but has spread through deer and elk populations in New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Canada.
Last week, the Minnesota DNR announced a plan to test 5,000 deer killed by Minnesota hunters this fall for CWD. The season for hunting deer with guns opens Nov. 9.
Minnesota has about 450,000 deer hunters and a deer population of more than 1 million. DNR officials expect hunters to kill about 200,000 deer this year.
Until the Legislature can address its proposals, the DNR is urging hunters not to bring whole deer carcasses into the state from other states this fall.
Many feed stores in Minnesota sell large quantities of deer feed.
"During severe winters many tons a day will go out of here for deer feeding," said Brad Bunge, co-owner of the Carlton Feed Mill, southwest of Duluth.
He said a statewide feeding ban "obviously would be an economic loss" but he wasn't sure how significant it would be.
Separately, scientists and wildlife managers at a conference in Grand Rapids on Friday said that while aggressive measures are needed to watch for the disease, equally aggressive education is needed to quash rumors about it.
Each speaker at the daylong conference stressed that not once since chronic wasting disease was discovered in 1967 in Colorado has it been known to infect humans, cattle or other species besides deer and elk.
"In a lot of ways this is a media-driven disease," said Terry Kreeger, an expert on the disease for the Game and Fish Department in the state of Wyoming, where deer and elk herds have harbored the disease for 20 years. "They keep alluding to this being a human disease, and it's not. There appears to be a species barrier to the transmission of this disease."
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