You don’t have to be a modern-day Einstein to know that time and space have compressed at unprecedented rates during the last quarter-century.
The invention and now ubiquity of cellphones and other electronic gadgets make the point: Humans’ historical appreciations of how long it takes to do something, or how slow or fast they can travel from one place to another (literally and metaphorically), and the relationships between the two, have been radically altered.
Individuals are affected. But so are cultures and disciplines as varied as economics and ecology.
The latter is the concern today, because while space-time compression usually results in cultural and economic benefits, negative consequences often correspondingly flow to plants, animals, land and water, i.e., the natural world.
Yet the reclamation of those resources, or their protection, occurs at a relative snail’s pace. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, particularly in captive deer and elk, provides examples of this disparity — and examples, too, of Minnesotans’ willingness, so often, to be taken for chumps.
More on that later.
For now, recall that CWD is the always fatal deer and elk brain affliction that is endemic in southern Wisconsin, and also threatens Minnesota whitetails. The disease endangers the more than 2 million deer in the two states, as well as the states’ multibillion-dollar hunting and wildlife-watching economies.
The 1 million or more Minnesota and Wisconsin residents who eat venison also are at risk. Canadian research begun in 2009 found for the first time that CWD can jump species. Macaque monkeys contracted the disease after eating CWD-infected deer — the first known transmission of CWD to a primate.
“The assumption was for the longest time that chronic wasting disease was not a threat to human health,” Stefanie Czub of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said. “But with the new data, it seems we need to revisit this view to some degree.”
Since 1998, almost 210,000 Wisconsin deer have been tested for CWD by wildlife officials, with the first positive finding occurring in 2002. Of these, 4,170 carried CWD, including, in January, a hunter-killed buck taken last fall near Rhinelander, in northern Wisconsin — hundreds of miles from where CWD has been concentrated in the southern part of that state.
Minnesota by comparison is in better shape — for now. The first CWD-infected wild deer here was discovered near Pine Island, in the southeast, in 2010. In 2016, three more infected deer were found, and in 2017, another 14, all in the southeast.
While the Minnesota DNR has been aggressive in its assessment of the spread of CWD here, and in its attempts to wipe it out by killing large percentages of a suspect population, some hunter-landowners in the southeast have refused to thin herds on their properties, or to allow others access to do it for them.
This is understandable — no one wants to kill animals unnecessarily, or absent the component of fair chase that is inherent in a structured hunt. But the resistance is also regrettable, and possibly could lead to CWD infection rates similar to Wisconsin’s, if early returns of a multiyear CWD study in Wisconsin hold up.
That study found that CWD-infected wild deer are far more likely to die during the course of a year than noninfected wild deer. The disease itself kills some of the animals. But predators, hunters and vehicles also killed the diseased animals at significantly higher rates than they did healthy deer — probably because of the infected animals’ gradually weakened conditions.
After the study’s first year, 75 percent of healthy deer were alive in the wild, but only 25 percent of CWD infected deer.
If these disparate death rates hold up, and the rate of new CWD infections among Wisconsin deer continues unabated, the threat to Wisconsin’s (and by extension, Minnesota’s) whitetail population becomes clear: Over time, CWD could wipe out most, if not all, whitetails.
Now comes the Minnesotans-as-chumps part.
As was reported by Tony Kennedy in this newspaper on Wednesday, a captive deer herd in Winona County was killed Feb. 21 and tested for CWD. All seven animals at the facility were infected. The depopulation followed positive CWD tests on two other deer that died on the farm in November and December. The further bad news is that the farm was poorly fenced and ineffectively monitored by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, possibly allowing the intermingling of the infected captive deer with healthy wild whitetails.
Cutting to the chase — and disregarding for the moment the blather from deer and elk farmers about the wholesomeness of their relatively meager $17 million “industry” — captive whitetail and elk herds are the No. 1 threat to the health of wild deer in Minnesota and beyond.
What’s more, the same space-time compression that has accelerated to warp speed much of the rest of society in recent years has allowed, encouraged, facilitated and fast-tracked the movement of these animals between and among states — placing at risk the lifestyles, health and financial well-being of millions of Minnesotans, as well as residents of other states.
Yet the “regulation” of these captive deer and elk farms in Minnesota by the Board of Animal Health occurs at a comparative snail’s pace — when it occurs at all. At least in Wisconsin, deer farmers are required to have a DNR-issued fencing permit.
Minnesotans, you’re chumps if you don’t insist during this legislative session that at a minimum, deer farms should be double-fenced to ensure that captive deer and elk can’t mix with wild deer.
You’re also chumps if you don’t demand that regulation of these farms be removed from the Board of Animal Health.
Better yet, buy out the whole lot of them. And be done with deer and elk farming in Minnesota.
But hurry. Time’s flying.
Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424