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Proposed moratorium on new deer farms moves on to environment committee

How widespread are chronic wasting disease and COVID-19 in deer that live on Minnesota farms?

We don’t really know.

A comprehensive study hasn’t been undertaken on the farmed deer of Minnesota, but an Iowa study completed in 2021 found 80% of the sampled deer on farms there tested positive for COVID-19, according to Kevin Dupuis, chairman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

That’s one reason Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) is sponsoring HF3273, a bill that would prohibit the Board of Animal Health from approving new registrations for the possession of farmed white-tailed deer.

On Monday, the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee voted 8-4 along party lines to refer the bill to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee.

The bill’s companion, SF3169, sponsored by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee.

“The first step is to stop the bleeding, and that is to issue no new registrations,” Hansen said. “There is precedence for this, about 20 years ago, with registrations for commercial turtle harvesting. … Last fall, we had testimony that there had been six to 10 new registrations per year.”

Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said his approximately 20,000-member organization supported the bill’s proposed moratorium at its recent annual meeting.

“Chronic wasting disease is a strong focus [for the organization], and we virtually unanimously supported a moratorium on new registrations as a means of protecting the wild deer herd,” he said. “On Feb. 1, the DNR and the Board of Animal Health issued their joint report finding that there was about a 34% infraction rate on their inspected farms. These included inadequate fencing, inadequate gates, refusing inspection. We believe we’ve reached the point where the wild deer herd is under significant threat.”

Representing the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association, Tim Spreck said the bill would do “irreparable damage” to the deer-farming industry. “We’re trying to drive the deer-farming industry into oblivion, one cut at a time. We don’t want to be bought out. We don’t want to go away.”

Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls) noted it was the first time he’d heard committee discussion of the state “buying out” the deer farming industry.

“Let’s clean up this industry,” Ecklund said. “I’ve never said let’s eliminate it. I think it has value. I’ve just been trying to protect the wild deer herd.”

When Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) asked Hansen if he would support a buyout, Hansen replied, “No, because it would just turn into a publicly funded auction.”

“I think the mistakes have been delicate ones,” Anderson said. “And I think this takes a sledgehammer to things. I think this is too severe and strict on the deer farmers.”

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