After eight years of monitoring and aggressive management, bovine tuberculosis (TB) is undetectable in wild deer in northwestern Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Bovine TB was first discovered in area cattle operations and wild deer near Skime, Minn., in 2005.
“We have accomplished what many believed was not possible,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor. “By reducing the incidence of TB in wild deer to an undetectable level and hopefully eliminating it, Minnesota has become an international example on how to successfully respond to a disease outbreak that has a significant wildlife component.”
None of 325 deer harvested during the 2012 firearms season tested positive for the disease, marking the third consecutive year of negative TB testing results and ending DNR sampling of hunter-harvested deer in a 164-square-mile disease management zone.
Cooperation from farmers, landowners and hunters allowed DNR and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to successfully combat the disease outbreak. Bovine TB is a progressive and chronic bacterial disease that primarily affects cattle but also infects wildlife.
“These people made significant sacrifices to make sure Minnesota livestock and wildlife are free of this disease,” said Bill Hartmann, state veterinarian and executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. “Their cooperation does not go unnoticed.”
Minnesota regained its TB-free status in cattle in 2011, but the DNR continued testing wild deer until achieving three consecutive years of negative findings for bovine TB. This provides assurance that the disease has been controlled in wildlife as well.
“We appreciated the patience of hunters as we managed this disease,” said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader.
The deer population was reduced throughout the TB management zone through the use of liberalized hunting seasons. Landowner shooting permits, aerial shooting, and sharpshooting by professional contractors were also used in the core area where the TB positive deer were found. “We recognize that this had a significant impact on hunters’ opportunities to harvest deer,” McInenly said. “We’re looking forward to increasing deer densities in the area back to goal levels.”
This will be accomplished through more conservative regulations limiting harvest of antlerless deer, allowing the population to grow.
“Deer populations are resilient and history has shown that they can recover in a short period of time when harvest is restricted,” McInenly said.
Carstensen said the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and its Roseau River chapter were particularly helpful during disease surveillance efforts by sponsoring a firearm raffle each year to help encourage hunters to submit harvested deer for sampling.