Sharpshooters culling 700 elk in Minnesota
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Federal sharpshooters have begun destroying a herd of about 700 elk on a farm in southeastern Minnesota where chronic wasting disease (CWD) was discovered this year.
Sharpshooters with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services shot elk Friday and Monday on the farm near Pine Island, after the federal agency reached an agreement with the herd’s owners concerning compensation and cleanup. A cow elk at Elk Farm LLC—the largest such farm in the state—was found to have the disease in January, and the herd has been quarantined since.
The 1,300-acre farm was purchased in 2006 by Tower Investments of Woodland, Calif., and is part of 2,300 acres the firm plans to develop north of Rochester for a bioscience research and manufacturing ce nter called Elk Run. It would include 15 to 25 bioscience companies, as well as offices, shops and homes, officials say.
“This is very sad situation for all of us at Tower Investments,” project manager Geoff Griffin said.
“But it’s totally out of our control. The good thing is, it does not affect our development.”
All of the elk will be killed over the next 10 days or so and tested for the fatal brain disease, then will be disposed of, said Paul Anderson, assistant director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. None of the meat can be salvaged for human consumption.
“There’s no evidence that it causes disease in people,” Anderson said, “but with a known infected herd, we just would not take any risks with humans.”
Tower Investments will be compensated for the animals by the Agriculture Department. Federal officials said Monday that they’re unsure what the total cost will be.
To prevent the spread of CWD to wild deer, the top couple of i nches of topsoil on the farm will be removed and stored behind a fenced area for five years, Anderson said. Tower Investments will pay for that, he said. “Normally, we’d require that fences stay up (on a farm) for five years,” Anderson said, “but because of the need to develop that land, they will remove the soil and pile it up behind a fence for five years.”
The Department of Natural Resources also plans to test 3,000 deer for CWD that are expected to be killed by hunters this fall in southeastern Minnesota. The testing, which will cost more than $200,000, was prompted by the presence of CWD at the Pine Island elk farm and by the proximity of deer in the region to Wisconsin, where wild deer have been infected with CWD, said Ed Boggess, DNR policy section chief. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay about $70,000 of the cost, he said.
Though no elk have escaped from the Pine Island farm, Anderson said two wild deer somehow managed to get inside the fenced f arm and were destroyed. Since the disease was first found in the state in a captive elk herd in 2002, DNR officials have been concerned that it could spread to Minnesota’s approximately 1 million wild deer. There are about 20,000 captive deer and elk in the state, and the disease can be spread through nose-to-nose contact. The infected elk at Pine Island was the sixth captive deer or elk in the state found to have CWD.
The DNR has tested more than 30,000 wild deer, and none has tested positive.