Our view: Want to slow the spread of CWD in Minnesota? Clamp down on farms

The bill is HF 1202, and it would shift oversight of captive deer farms from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to the DNR.

Herald pull quote, 2/15/23
Herald graphic

Back in June 2021, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued a temporary rule prohibiting the movement of all farmed white-tailed deer in the state. The decision came after chronic wasting disease was discovered in a deer farm in Beltrami County, in northern Minnesota.

In a report published at the time in the Grand Forks Herald, state DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said CWD is a “serious disease that poses a growing threat to Minnesota’s wild deer” and that DNR actions must reflect the agency’s interest in reducing that threat.

“The DNR is committed to proactively addressing CWD and doing everything we can to protect Minnesota’s white-tailed deer as part of our natural heritage,” Strommen said. “The CWD detections at the Beltrami County farm, its connections to other farms in the state and the additional contamination outside of the farm, pose a risk to wild deer that requires emergency action.”

The work continues, and a bill circulating in the Minnesota Legislature appears to be a good next step in battling CWD in the state. Some will consider it drastic, but we see it as an appropriate step to — as Strommen said back in 2021 — do everything possible to protect Minnesota’s wild deer population.

The bill is HF 1202, and it would shift oversight of captive deer farms from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to the DNR. It also would ban any new deer farms in the state and require all captive deer to be tested for CWD, according to reporting by Forum News Service. A similar bill has been introduced in the state Senate.


Earlier this month, wildlife biologists spoke during a House committee hearing and said farmed deer are big contributors of spreading CWD, since deer from those facilities often are moved between other farms — including out-of-state facilities — to be sold as trophies.

In addition, HF 1202 seeks to require double fencing — to the height of 10 feet — for whitetail deer farms. It also would require ear tags in any captive whitetails and allow hunters to shoot escaped captive deer without penalty.

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association has thrown its support behind the proposal. And why wouldn’t they? Deer hunting remains incredibly popular throughout Minnesota — approximately a half-million hunters try their luck each season in the state.

“Deer hunting is integral to who we are. … The legislative intent here is that we protect our wild deer herd,” Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, said in the FNS report. Becker-Finn is the chief author of the bill.

Deer farmers aren’t nearly as excited about it. A lobbyist says it will be the “end of the industry” after a “slow, calculated death for deer farms.”

That’s not necessarily certain. Perhaps the state should consider some sort of buy-out program to make things right with deer farmers — something akin to when the state bought out commercial netters on Lake of the Woods in the 1980s.

But if HF 1202 passes, we do see it as a way to preserve deer hunting in the state by getting a better grip on CWD, which can spread so quickly and be devastating to deer and the hunting industry as a whole.

Some counties already are working on bans, including St. Louis County in Minnesota’s northeast corner. During a House committee hearing earlier this month in St. Paul, St. Louis County Board Chairman Patrick Boyle promoted HF 1202, saying “the time is now to eradicate (CWD) and take care of it.”


We agree and hope HF 1202 becomes Minnesota law.

What To Read Next
Get Local