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Guest Opinion: Minnesota can be a national leader on CWD

Josh Heintzeman

Like many area residents, I was extremely concerned when the DNR revealed last month that a wild deer in Crow Wing County had tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.

This is the first time a CWD-positive deer has been found outside of southeastern Minnesota.

The news has created a ripple effect across the state and across our county as many folks are concerned about how this may affect next year's deer hunting season and the overall health of the deer herd in Crow Wing County. I appreciate the DNR's quick response and for hosting a listening session in Brainerd last week as we work to take action in the fight against CWD

I have met with the DNR, the Board of Animal Health, and contacted local officials in the weeks since the announcement to discuss next steps to prevent the spread of CWD to other herds in the area. It is my hope that with a quick response from state and county officials, in partnership with private landowners, we will be able to better understand the threat to deer in Crow Wing County.

As a member of the Environment Policy and Finance Committee, I've heard first-hand the frustration that scientists, as well as wildlife managers, face developing strategies to combat this dangerous disease. We've heard from folks who have spent their entire scientific careers working on CWD from all over the country describe that chronic wasting disease is different from most other animal diseases.

In the case of CWD, a dead deer can tell us if the disease is present but it does not help us determine where the animal acquired the disease. Yes, it could have been transmitted from a deer farm but it also could have been acquired elsewhere. Deer are often harvested elsewhere and then taken home to be processed, and the remains are then discarded in the woods or fields. Deer are also highly mobile.

Unfortunately, with CWD transmission, there's much that remains a mystery.

What is not a mystery is that the prions that carry CWD are extremely resilient and can exist in the wild for years and years. Since they are almost impossible to get rid of, I believe we need to look to science for the answer.

I believe that Minnesota can be a national leader on this issue. Building on the science that has been developed over the past decades, the University of Minnesota believes it can develop a low-cost, accurate, test to determine if a living animal has the disease. Remember, the only way to confirm CWD currently is after the animal dies. We should invest in this type of research.

Further, I have introduced legislation that would establish a Chronic Wasting Disease Research Center at the University of Minnesota. The Center would be tasked with developing solutions to control the spread of CWD and to study the impacts of the disease on wildlife health, human health, and farmed cervidae (deer farms).

Ultimately, we need to work together to address this issue. I remain committed to bringing people together to solve this problem.

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