Chronic wasting disease is spreading in deer and elk game farms across the states, but there are not any documented cases in Carlton County.
Carlton County is considering a moratorium for any new deer and elk game farms being established. There is only one elk game farm in the county, which is located at the Lake Venoah Board and Care Community south of Carlton. Lake Venoah runs a board and care facility for male adults with drug and alcohol issues.
A draft ordinance for a one year moratorium on the creation or expansion of captive cervid game farms in Carlton County was presented for consideration by Zoning Administrator Heather Cunningham and Land Commissioner Greg Bernu at the Committee of the Whole meeting on May 3. The moratorium will potentially provide time to study the issue and create a proposed set of possible regulations. The county board will probably call for a hearing on June 27 at 4:15 p.m. at their regular meeting on May 10 on the proposal.
Cervids are mammals that are from the deer family such as deer, elk, moose, and caribou. They are susceptible to the infection and die from CWD. The disease is very contagious and leads to great weight loss and death. Incidence of CWD in deer and elk farms occurs in Minnesota at around 1%, while in Wisconsin some areas are as high as 30%.
Captain Robert Gorecki who is from the DNR CWD Deer Farm Enforcement related that each deer game farm incident of CWD costs about $500,000 to contain and eliminate. He said that there is documented at least 160 escapes of animals from some Minnesota deer game farms with 30% cited as violations.
Gorecki also mentioned that 380 deer had been shipped out of Wisconsin deer farms to all parts of the country, including Minnesota, and some of the animals later tested positive for CWD. Infected deer have been found in the Camp Ripley area, Grand Rapids, Beltrami County, and a major outbreak in the southeast corner of Minnesota where both game farm deer and open range whitetail deer were put to death and safely disposed of. In some cases, dead deer carcasses have been thrown onto State forested land and abandoned.
Craig Engwall from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association cautioned that deer hunting is a way of life for many Minnesotans and has occurred since the pioneer days. He felt that his group has positively helped form legislation and department policies that protects the freedom to hunt. Deer hunting is not only a sport to many Northern Minnesotans, but is a strong economic boost for the whole area.
Chair of the Carlton County Board of Commissioners, Gary Peterson commented via phone that it does not hurt to study this CWD situation during a year’s moratorium for introducing new deer farms. He pointed out that the health of the wild deer population in our area affects those that hunt and eat their game but also can adversely affect our local economy.
The Fond Du Lac Band is in support of the moratorium and increased regulation for the safety of wild deer, elk, and moose.
“I am not taking any side in this debate of the pros and cons for having a local deer farm,” said James Jauss, owner of the Lake Venoah Elk Farm. “I have run an elk farm for 25 years and have not introduced any new stock into my herd for the last 20 years.”
He went on to say that he was disappointed that only the DNR, the Deer Hunters Association, and the Fond Du Lac Band were at the meeting to express their views. Jauss said that the MN Board of Animal Health has the ultimate jurisdiction over his elk farm as far as regulation is concerned.
The Animal Board of Health sends their own veterinarian once every two years to test his animals, check tags, check his paperwork, and make recommendations. On the off years the local vet comes and checks his herd. Jauss said it is a very regulated process. Costs are going up. A permit used to cost $100 but now is $500.
Twenty years ago there were 350 elk farms in Minnesota. Most of them were in the big farming areas of the state. Jauss said he imports his alfalfa from his Dakota farm but buys his corn feed from a local vendor. Today, there are only 100 elk farms in Minnesota.
Jauss said the individual elk can be worth $10,000 or more. The velvet on their antlers contain blood vessels and the membrane that forms the antler we see in the fall is harvested and processed. It is sold as a treatment for arthritis and reproductive issues in humans and can be quite lucrative.
Jauss did not know how much longer he would run an elk farm at the Lake Venoah facility. There is a lot of work to keep his fencing in good shape. His biggest concern is that wild animals will infect his herd if his fencing fails.
“You don’t need a moratorium or more regulation,” Jauss said. “If someone wants to start a game farm just have them call me.”