Minnesota Targets Captive Deer Farms Amid Spread of CWD

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by: Jorge Garcia/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Lawmakers are cracking down on whitetail deer farms in Minnesota as part of an effort to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

According to Outdoor Life, the state House of Representatives recently introduced legislation that would stop the Board of Animal heath from handing out permits for deer farms in Minnesota.

The bill would also enact new rules on existing farms. If passed, captive herds would need stronger and higher fences and more CWD testing. Also, farmers wouldn’t be able to move the animals around the state.

The proposed bill comes after Minnesota DNR detected a new case of CWD in the area. The fatal, neurological illness affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose.

Wildlife officials first found the disease in a wild population in 2010. And it has since been found in eight Minnesota areas. However, the Department of Natural Resources has reported a drop in cases over the past five years with fewer than one percent of animals testing positive in the hot zones.

But according to DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, a new positive test popped up in the city of Grand Rapids. And because of that, the agency is taking aim at deer farms.

“The agency has learned over the years that regulating captive deer farms is a necessary part of that approach,” Strommen said in a statement.

The reasoning comes from studies by the DNR and the Board of Animal Health. In a recent report, the agencies said that around one-third of deer farms in Minnesota were in violation of current fencing regulations or CWD mitigation protocols.

“Taxpayers have spent millions of dollars cleaning up the mess of CWD,” said Rep. Rick Hansen. “The public has borne the cost for those that have not been able to maintain their fences. And I don’t want to do that anymore.”

Minnesota Deer Farms Say They’re Not to Blame for CWD

However, the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association disagrees with the bill. It argues that the government is unfairly blaming them for the disease. And furthermore, it claims that new rules will destroy the industry and subsequently hurt the state economy.

“These are family farmers who have been financially injured through no fault of their own because of the heavy hand of the government,” Minnesota Deer Farmers Association Tim Spreck told lawmakers last month. 

There are around 150 deer and elk captive breeding farms in Minessota to date. The businesses bring an estimated $24.2 million to the economy each year.

Rep. John Burkel agrees that new rules could hurt the industry. So, he’s hoping that the state can help ease the transition on farms.

“Whatever our views are on deer farms at the moment, it’s incumbent upon us to alleviate some of this financial pressure that the state…and the DNR forced these small farms to endure,” he said.