Four years ago, Minnesota wild deer had no cases of chronic wasting disease, the deadly and contagious illness that has the potential to decimate herds. Yet by late 2019, there were 76 confirmed cases of CWD in Minnesota wild deer.

Many wildlife biologists and hunters believe the quick rise can be attributed to Minnesota deer farms, where proprietors raise deer for meat, antlers, scent products and, sometimes, trophy hunts. There are 102 of those farms operating today in Minnesota.

These statistics and their possible links are important to consider as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources works to stop the spread of CWD, including its recent decision to temporarily prohibit the movement of all white-tailed deer – including farm-raised deer – within Minnesota.

Thursday, the Herald reported the DNR will be issuing a fine to Steve Porter, who operates Steve Porter’s Trophy Whitetail in Lake Bronson, Minn. Porter will get a $300 fine for transporting a farm-raised deer from his ranch to a sportsmen’s show in St. Paul.

Porter derives part of his livelihood by showing trophy deer at sportsmen’s events. Needless to say, he disagrees with the DNR’s restriction on transporting his stock.

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“The DNR passes a bogus 30-day ban on movement, and who does it affect the hardest? Me,” he told the Herald last week.

We cannot fault the DNR, whose goal is to protect and conserve the state’s wildlife. While Porter does not believe the DNR has the authority to issue a no-movement mandate, we side with the DNR on its no-transport order.

For comparison, consider laws in place to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian water milfoil or zebra mussels. Boaters in Minnesota are required to clean all visible aquatic plants, zebra mussels and other prohibited invasive species from boats and trailers before leaving any water access. They’re also required to drain all bilges and wells, and then to keep drain plugs out while transporting watercraft.

To us, that means there is precedent in the DNR’s recent deer mandate. Meanwhile, limiting deer movement could likewise aid in stopping the spread of CWD, which exists in deer saliva, urine, feces and antler velvet.

However, the DNR also should be cognizant of the Minnesotans who make their living via legal wildlife farms, like Porter. While we believe the agency’s intent is correct, it should have been more accommodating for Porter and others like him. The announcement came without warning and apparently caught these businessmen unprepared.

Porter told the Herald he, too, wants to stop the spread of CWD, and why wouldn’t he? His business depends on healthy deer. Stopping CWD is what everyone wants, first and foremost the DNR.

But in the short-term, the DNR should grant an exemption to Porter and others like him, provided they adhere to very specific rules, such as a limit on the number of deer transported and also that those deer never leave the confines of a trailer.

Then, with temporary exemptions granted for businessmen, allow the 30-day moratorium to run its course. Then, in the coming months, make a longer-term decision.