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Sharpshooters to return to bovine TB deer area later this month (February 5, 2008)

Sharpshooters for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will assist the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) later this month in agency efforts to reduce the deer population in the designated bovine tuberculosis (TB) deer management zone of northwestern Minnesota.

“Our goal is to use all the tools we have available to get ahead of this disease and ensure it doesn’t persist in Minnesota’s deer population,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program coordinator. “Sharpshooters are one of those tools.”

DNR helicopter surveys taken in January show that there about 800 deer, an estimated five deer per square mile, in the 140-square mile area that is managed for bovine TB. Last year, similar helicopter surveys in the same area showed 920 deer, an estimated 6.5 deer per square mile. Deer numbers were high enough in 2007 to prompt DNR officials to seek assistance from USDA sharpshooters to help reduce the bovine TB area’s deer population.

DNR officials tested more than 1,100 hunter-harvested deer for bovine TB in 2007. They discovered four infected animals, bringing the total number of infected deer to 17 since surveillance efforts began in 2005.

“Because TB continues to be found in wild deer and the deer population in the core TB area has not appreciably declined from last year, sharpshooters remain a necessity,” Carstensen said. “We need to keep the pressure on deer within this small area to reduce the risk of this disease becoming established in the herd.”

For the 2007 deer season, the DNR created a new bovine TB permit area and greatly liberalized deer hunting regulations in that area. The purpose of the management strategy was to allow hunters to reduce deer densities in the bovine TB area by maximizing hunting opportunity.

Hunters harvested 1,609 deer during the 2007 season from the bovine TB area. That total includes the early anterless season, the 16-day regular firearm season and a special January hunt.

“While the increased deer harvest in the area certainly helped manage the deer population, this level of harvest pressure must continue for multiple years to have a significant effect in bringing deer densities down,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game coordinator.

“Throughout the season, it was encouraging to see that hunters recognized the importance of this project by harvesting deer, even during the January cold when they harvested 120 additional animals.”

“The good news is that the prevalence of the disease in wild deer remains low and is restricted to a small geographic region,” Carstensen said.

All deer taken by sharpshooters in the bovine TB management area will be tested for the disease. People interested in obtaining field-dressed carcasses that show no signs of infection must place their name on a waiting list by contacting Thief Lake Wildlife Management office at (218) 222-3747.

Individuals are responsible for retrieving the carcass from Thief Lake, which is about 300 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Although risk of human infection from bovine TB remains low, DNR officials advise all consumers of venison to properly cook the meat to 165°F.

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