CWD is a prion disease, similar to mad cow disease in cattle or scrapie in sheep, that affects deer, elk, caribou and moose. It's fatal to animals and there are no treatments or vaccines. Whitetails can carry the contagious disease for a year or more before developing symptoms of drastic weight loss, stumbling, drooling and listlessness.
There have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. Recently, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intensified its CWD guidance by saying new studies have raised concerns that consumption of meat from a CWD-infected animal may be a risk to people.
CWD in deer and elk has become widely established in areas of Wisconsin, Iowa, Wyoming and other states, where some wildlife managers believe it will cause long-term decline of those game species. To justify the expense of the southeastern Minnesota deer movement study, the DNR told the LCCMR that the economic value of deer hunting in Minnesota is estimated at more than $500 million. About a half-million people a year hunt deer in the state.
Jennelle said deer in the study area will be captured starting in January, possibly through March. Helicopter crews will launch nets at the animals to immobilize them on the ground for ear-tagging and collaring. Each capture is estimated to cost $600, plus $250 an hour for spotter plane assistance.
The collars, costing $1,500 each, will expand to accommodate normal neck growth and neck bulging in bucks during the mating season. If the netting is ineffective, Jenelle said, field workers may shift to immobilizing deer with chemicals via dart guns.
According to the study proposal, 60 of the first 115 collared deer will be juvenile males born in spring 2016. More so than females of that age, males disperse from their natal range as they enter their second year of life. Adult bucks also roam, and researchers will attempt to collar 25 of them. The remaining collared deer in the first phase of the study will be juvenile female deer.
As part of the study in the second and third years, Jennelle said his research team would like to experiment with a few special GPS collars embedded with motion cameras. The study proposal also calls for mounting an array of trail cameras in the study area. Pictures will help researchers estimate rates of deer-to-deer contact useful for computer modeling of the spread of CWD, he said.
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