The Minnesota DNR has shared promising results from its investigation into chronic wasting disease following the 2020 deer hunting season.
The DNR had tight restrictions in place in several areas of Minnesota to minimize the spread of the disease, which is fatal to deer, as well as holding a special hunt in late December to cut down on deer populations in areas where CWD is particularly widespread.
Following the 2020 season, the DNR says that it confirmed CWD in 22 deer, but crucially, all of them were found within the state's current disease management zones.
The DNR tested 7,682 samples from hunter-harvested or "opportunistic samples" – such as deer killed by vehicles, or found sick/dead –and found 19 of the positive were in the state's southeast management zone, and three were from the south metro management zone.
There was no CWD detected in the north-central management zone, the southeast control zone, or the surveillance areas put in place for the 2020 season.
“Though CWD is detected in Minnesota’s wild deer, our recent test results show that the disease prevalence remains relatively low,” said Erik Hildebrand, DNR wildlife health specialist.
"Keeping deer healthy is our priority, and we continue to take aggressive action in areas where the disease has been detected in wild deer and monitor for the disease in areas where there are elevated risks for CWD."
The number of CWD-confirmed cases may yet rise, as there remain some test results pending.
And there's also the possibility that some cases were missed because the DNR shifted this year to voluntary self-service sampling to ensure social distancing could be maintained due to COVID-19.
As a result, some areas under surveillance did not receive enough samples to the required level for the DNR to "confidently assess disease prevalence in an area."
In February and March, the DNR and the USDA will commence "targeted culling" in areas where CWD has been detected in wild deer. Any venison that doesn't test positive for CWD will be donated through the Share the Harvest program.