A deer from a small captive cervid facility has tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Douglas County, officials said on Dec. 10.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced on Tuesday that an 8-year-old white-tailed doe tested positive for CWD after its white-tailed buck pen-mate killed it in a small, two-deer, hobbyist herd.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the doe’s brain and lymph node tissues were positive for the disease. The site is under quarantine, officials said. This is the first time CWD has been confirmed in Douglas County.

“We’re conducting a full and thorough investigation of herd history and animal movements to determine any likely routes of CWD transmission in the herd,” said Dr. Courtney Wheeler, board of health senior veterinarian.

Wheeler could not make public what part of Douglas County the farm was located in during an interview with the Echo Press on Tuesday.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“This farm was in compliance with all of our laws regulating farm cervidae,” Wheeler said. “The fences had been inspected this year, and he was in compliance.”

Wheeler said the doe that tested positive for CWD has lived on the farm in Douglas County since February of this year after being moved from another Minnesota farm. The ultimate goal of the investigation for the Board of Animal Health is to try to determine how the animal was exposed to CWD.

“At this point, we have thought of one site where this deer came from, but we’ll go back further if needed,” Wheeler said. “We’re still working on that.”

When the Douglas County herd owner received the CWD-positive results for the doe, he decided to euthanize the only remaining deer on site, the buck, and submit it for CWD testing. Test results are pending.

Double fencing is not required by law on cervid farms in Minnesota, and Wheeler said this farm did not have the double fencing.

“Some of our producers do have that extra set of fencing that decreases the risk of contact with wild deer,” Wheeler said. “Our state epidemiologist will be out there this week to ask those types of questions with the producer. So saying, ‘Have you seen deer near the fence? How often have you seen them? How many?’ Those types of questions will come out at a later date.”

Wheeler said the producer does not have any reports of wild deer in the fence or of any captive deer escaping from the enclosure.

“We have no direct evidence that this deer had contact with wild deer at this point,” Wheeler said. “But the risk is ever present on properties that don’t have that extra layer of fencing.”

The DNR’s response?

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been aggressive in its approach in trying to identify and limit any potential spread of CWD as it pertains to the wild deer herd.

Chronic wasting disease in the wild herd had been limited to the southeastern portion of Minnesota until February of 2019 when the DNR confirmed a wild deer tested positive in Crow Wing County near Brainerd. That came less than 0.5 miles from an infected captive facility.

The CWD positive wild deer led to the creation of a North Central CWD Management Zone for the 2019 season that implemented additional regulations for hunters. The DNR states that the intent of management strategies in CWD management zones is to increase hunting opportunities with liberalized bag limits to reduce deer densities, limit the potential for disease transmission, and remove any additional positive deer from the landscape.

Exactly how the DNR will respond with its surveillance efforts around the site of this new discovery of the disease in a captive deer will be determined as the investigation from the Board of Animal Health is completed.

“(The DNR) has all the information we currently have regarding this investigation,” Wheeler said. “When I spoke with the state wildlife manager, she told me they are currently deciding where to focus their efforts for testing, but I can’t give you any sort of timeline as to when that will happen or what their goals will be.”

The DNR released an updated CWD response plan in July where it laid out general guidelines for how it would respond to the discovery of the disease. As it pertains to the discovery of CWD in a captive cervid facility, the plan states: “The Minnesota DNR will determine if wild cervids in the surrounding area are infected with CWD by conducting precautionary surveillance in the immediate area for a minimum of three consecutive years, which may include hunter-harvested surveillance, special hunts, landowner shooting permits, and agency-directed culling.”

Jason Strege, the DNR’s assistant wildlife manager for the area out of Glenwood, called the CWD positive in a new area of the state “super unfortunate.”

“Just a new positive result on the landscape is never good,” he said. “It’s super disappointing and concerning, that’s for sure.”

Strege did not want to speculate on how exactly this might affect the wild deer herd and regulations for hunters in the Douglas County area, other than to say it’s something the DNR definitely won’t ignore.

“Our DNR field offices right now are not even sure exactly where this is, but finding out deer densities around the site will be part of it,” Strege said. “It’s not going to be ignored, that’s for sure.”

Details of CWD

  • CWD is a disease of the deer and elk family caused by prions, which can damage brain and nerve tissue. The disease is most likely transmitted when infected deer and elk shed prions in saliva, feces, urine and other fluids or tissues. CWD is not known to naturally occur in other animals. The disease is fatal in deer and elk.

  • There have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people, but the Center for Disease Control has recommended that people do not eat meat from an animal that is CWD positive.