by ZACH KAYSER
Although there were still public commenters debating it during a Winona County Board meeting late last month, in a practical sense the deer culling issue is dead — at least for this year.
County officials said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) withdrew its request to cull deer on the county property known as Stone Point Park, a former landfill. The County Board had simply taken too long to decide whether to allow it. Having largely completed its deer culling program everywhere else in the state, the DNR’s time sensitive request to Winona County became moot, even as board members debated for months on the issue.
“It’s off the table,” County Board Chair Marcia Ward said of the culling. She said the board would most likely discuss it again for next winter.
Much like the last several meetings, the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting featured a back-and-forth on the merits and drawbacks of the DNR deer culling efforts to combat the fatal chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the local whitetail deer population.
Richard Bagneski, who owns land northeast of Wilson, said he paid a pretty penny in property taxes and asked rhetorically if the government was going to give some of that money back, if they were going to take out the deer at his place.
“People pay to hunt deer,” he said. “I guess I can’t quite understand — I know CWD can be a bad disease, but why go out and kill these deer because they might die of something else? Now they’re dead. I think, let it run its course.”
Although the DNR would seek permission first if it wanted to cull deer directly on Bagneski’s land, other landowners have argued that the DNR’s practice of baiting deer has the effect of attracting the deer from their land and onto nearby land where the DNR has culling operations ongoing.
Much like COVID containment, CWD containment is not concerned with individuals so much as the community. As the deer becomes less densely distributed, there are fewer potential transmission sources to infect the broader Winona area deer population.
Amy Cordry, a local resident as well as former advisory committee member to the state Board of Animal Health who has spoken on the CWD issue at several county board meetings, said the hard-to-kill prions can persist in the soil and plants. Since she lives next to a former deer farm, her land value might have been negatively impacted just like Bagneski’s, she said. “There is a strong possibility that our land is contaminated with these prions,” she said.
Cordry accused the County Board as well as County Administrator Ken Fritz of intentionally dragging their feet.
“I have seen manipulation of the process in order to obstruct the [state’s] action by the county,” she said. “Now, you need to keep the county safe. Your job as a leader is to operate on facts, and to operate with the best interests of the county, and the health of the county, in mind. And I’m not seeing that.”
John Zanmiller, director of community and governmental relations for the Bluffland Whitetails Association, invited the Winona County Board to meet with his organization in order to educate them on the importance of cooperating with the DNR to fight CWD.
“We’ve worked with the Fillmore County Board, and had great success, even in the face of some opposition from a small group of the public,” he said.
DNR officials were not immediately available for comment.