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Audit shows lax enforcement on elk, deer farm rules in Minnesota

ST. PAUL—Minnesota livestock regulators are not doing all they could to protect deer and elk from disease, a state audit shows.

"We found that the Board of Animal Health has failed to enforce some laws relating to deer and elk farms," the Office of the Legislative Auditor wrote in a letter to legislators. "The board has not established clear expectations for deer and elk farm inventories, nor has it systematically analyzed compliance with state laws requiring chronic wasting disease testing."

In a report released Friday, April 20, the auditors also said the board has a "strained relationship" with the Department of Natural Resources, a factor that makes containing disease difficult. The BAH oversees domesticated livestock while the DNR has responsibility for wild animals.

The auditor's office recommended that legislators add a member of the public to the BAH, the board should clarify how to keep track of disease-prevention efforts on farms, regulators should make sure farmers follow laws dealing with disease prevention, the board needs to improve relations with the DNR and a task force is needed to evaluate the state's deer feeding regulation.

Also, the audit reported, Minnesota does not have laws about deer and elk as strict as many states.

Executive Director Dr. Beth Thompson of the animal health board responded that the board already knew of some of the issues and will use the auditor's report to improve its work. The board is considering higher penalties for farmers who do not follow the law and rules, she said.

About 9,300 deer, elk and similar animals are on 398 farms, the audit reports.

The focus of the report was chronic wasting disease, which is always fatal. Animals show no signs until they are near death and CWD can be positively diagnosed only after death.

The disease has been found on eight farms and in wild herds in two counties since 2002.

State rules require that farmers must always report when animals die, but many have not done so, the audit concluded.

As far as communications with the DNR, Thompson agreed with the auditors' suggestion that a written memorandum should be signed by the agencies outlining what each should do.

"It could help spell out the procedures and practices for proper information flow so we can achieve the common goal of managing and eliminating CWD," Thompson said.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr agreed that a written agreement would help. One of the problems, he said, is that his department reports directly to the governor while the Board of Animal Health does not.

Landwehr also wrote that his agency has said for more than a decade that it has concerns about deer and elk farm management. "Our concerns have centered on the possibility of importing chronic wasting disease into the state and exposing Minnesota's wild deer herd to the disease."

Many states ban importation of elk and deer.

An earlier version of this story has been clarified.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.