St. Louis County prepares to ban new deer and elk farms – Duluth News Tribune

GNESEN TOWNSHIP — Several months after installing a one-year moratorium on growth on deer farms and their ilk, the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday moved toward a permanent ban on herds of deer, elk and moose used for commercial hunting and bushmeat farming.

The decision comes as farms become targets for transmission of chronic wasting disease, and even reckless behavior in spreading the virus.

Saying that state legislative efforts were watered down and not strong enough, county commissioners expressed initial approval of a motion to prevent the expansion of existing farms and end the arrival of new farms until other scientific solutions emerged.

“It’s not if, but when,” Commissioner Patrick Boyle, of East Duluth, said of the arrival of chronic wasting disease in the county’s wild deer herd.

Boyle added that he wants St. Louis County to clear the way for the entire state.

Patrick Boyle

The county’s current one-year moratorium was voted on unanimously last September — an effort to prevent the deadly virus from reaching the county’s wild herd.

A nearby captive herd west of St. Louis County, in Beltrame County, contracted the virus last year.

The Beltrami County farm has been described as a “game-changing agent” in northeastern Minnesota. The farm was found to dispose of diseased corpses on state land – an area now gated and forced into quarantine for the next two decades.

Defective prions, or proteins, can be shed by primates—deer, moose, and elk—into common food sources and soil, where prions transmit virus between animals, especially in congregate settings such as farms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has monitored chronic wasting disease for several years, and since 1997 has been advising against consuming meat infected with the virus.

There is a possibility that the virus will be transmitted to humans.

“The concern is there,” Matt Johnson said, comparing it to the possibility that the bat may have transmitted COVID-19 to lead to the ongoing pandemic.

Johnson is the Director of Planning and Community Development for St. Louis County. He described a range of possible outcomes, including doing nothing, before being halted on his office’s recommendation to ban new and expanded farms.

Johnson outlined the results of a months-long study of where the county should go next with its approach to treating chronic wasting disease. He cited conservation considerations of hunting, cultural significance, the role of deer in the food chain, and the aesthetics of owning wild herds.

“We are at a crossroads,” Johnson said.

“It’s a necessary pause for Northeast Minnesota,” said Commissioner Keith Nelson, who is based in Virginia, noting the full support of the rural commissioners for the upcoming measure.

The board’s voice approval means that the county administration will put forward a proposal to start voting at a future date. Johnson made it clear that the ban would also be subject to a public hearing.

If passed, the measure would leave the county with no more than St. Louis County’s five registered captive herds — already down from a peak of 12 in 2017. In all, the state has more than 250 registered cluster farms.

Boyle noted the popularity of the state’s annual deer hunting campaign, and the potential for endangering it. He also compared commercial fishing farms to the nearly 1 million acres of taxable land available in the county for hunting.

“Come put a portable stand and hunt deer like the rest of us,” Boyle said, defying commercial hunting values. “Don’t spend $6000 to $8000 shooting a two-year-old deer when given high doses of protein for a keepsake shelf where you shoot it from a 3-acre deer stand. Come and hunt with the rest of us who depend on this as meat in the fridge for seasons. long winters, and enjoy them for generations to come.”

This story was updated at 8 AM on May 11, 2022 to provide more details about the county’s current farms and future public hearing. Originally posted at 3:33 pm May 10, 2022.

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