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Letter: Bovine TB is a crisis in MN

I am writing in response to concerns I am hearing about Senate File 3811, the Bovine Tuberculosis Deer Management Bill I introduced in conjunction with the DNR. We are in the midst of a crisis of which we do not yet know the outcome. We are faced with a bovine tuberculosis disease outbreak in cattle and deer in our area -- a disease that has plagued Michigan for the past 20 years at the cost of more than $100 million, and with no end in sight.

The federal restrictions placed on our local cattle producers and the likelihood of successfully eliminating the disease, restoring our local economy and preserving the health and vitality of our future deer population are based solely on how we react now. Do we continue down the path of wait-and-see, react passively toward the control of the disease in the deer as Michigan did, watch the numbers of infected cattle and deer continue to rise to unrecoverable numbers? Or, do we act decisively and aggressively to contain and eliminate the disease? We have no blueprint of success to follow. Success or failure is up to us, and I believe the best action is to err on the side of over-aggressive actions in the containment and elimination of the disease so our local economy and wildlife are not downgraded for the long-term, foreseeable future.

As Minnesota works to become proactive in this disease management, we have made many big decisions. We have agreed to split the state to focus our resources, and we are offering an option of an animal buyout or extensive fencing for cattle producers in the area. The question I get over and over is: what are we going to do about the deer?

The cattle fall under control of the Board of Animal Health and the deer are under the DNR. I have to work with both agencies to manage the disease on both fronts. The deer have proven a much more difficult factor in the disease-eradication equation. They are wild animals roaming free on private and public lands. Almost every land owner in the area who was approached by the DNR to clear deer off their land recognized the danger to our economy and to the health of our wildlife, and has agreed to allow the DNR on their land. There were a small number of uncooperative landowners with a relatively large number of acres, which led us to the discussion of giving the DNR the authority to go on private land to retrieve deer solely for the purpose of Bovine TB control in the Bovine TB management area zone. Additionally, the DNR would have had to work with the Board of Animal Health to determine the need to enter.

The provision to enter lands without permission is part of a larger effort to eradicate deer in the Bovine TB management zone. This provision has changed drastically, and I now think it is not needed at all. However, the goal was to eliminate Bovine TB in Minnesota. This required me to work with the DNR, and part of this effort was to carry their bill for Bovine TB control.

Now let's look at the results. The law has not changed and no lands were entered without landowner permission. But what has happened? We have killed more than 900 deer in the management area. This appears to be a good result. We are on our way toward removing cattle with assistance from the ranchers in the area. We are, in my opinion, making significant progress in saving the Minnesota cattle industry millions of dollars in testing costs, saving the industry in the long term from having to deal with bovine TB in the future, and ensuring our local wildlife are not overrun with a chronic contagious disease. At what cost? I introduced a bill to allow the DNR to retrieve deer without landowner permission -- that bill never passed. This looks like a small price to pay for all the positives that have happened this spring and all the good that will be happening in the future.

The Minnesota Cattle Producers, Deer Hunters Association, Farmers Union, Farm Bureau and other vested groups have pledged their unwavering support of these efforts toward the goal of Bovine TB eradication as soon as possible. I am hopeful people in the area will look at the successes we have accomplished and judge my actions accordingly. I would like to thank everyone who has worked so tirelessly in these efforts and extend my hope we are well on our way toward eradication. -- Rod Skoe, Senator,District 2