Chronic Wasting Disease

The Modern Carnivore PodcastIn this seventh episode of the Modern Carnivore Podcast I sit down with Dr. Lou Cornicelli who is the Wildlife Research Manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Dr. Cornicelli has dedicated his professional career to the study and management of large ungulates (mammals with hooves). We primarily discuss Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and the risks this disease poses to our wild deer herd. If you’re just starting your hunting journey please don’t let this topic scare you in any way from continuing with your journey, but do educate yourself on the topic as it’s an important one.

Dr. Lou Cornicelli is on the Modern Carnivore Podcast talking about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer Click To Tweet
Dr. Lou Cornicelli Modern Carnivore Podcast

Dr. Lou Cornicelli recording the Modern Carnivore Podcast in 2017

Why Listen to The Modern Carnivore Podcast?

With all the podcasts out there why would you want to listen to this one? Well, if you’re looking for a new adventure in the outdoors we’ve got some very interesting guests talking about topics related to honest food and wild adventures. Get ready to be entertained and enlightened on topics related to hunting, fishing, foraging…and more.

Here are a couple other podcasts you may be interested in:

Episode 6: Tom Landwehr, the former Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources talking “deer camp” and more.

Episode 5: Howard Vincent, The CEO of Pheasants Forever which is one of the leading hunting conservation organizations in the U.S.

Do you have a question that you’d like answered on the podcast, or an idea for an episode? Shoot us a note at

Reference Links For This Podcast

New CWD-positive deer in Crow Wing County and southeastern Minnesota require additional disease monitoring and management

Minnesota Lawmaker Seeks Tougher Action Against Deer Disease

CDC Map Showing Spread Of CWD Across States

2017 News Story on Cervid Farm Testing Positive for CWD in Merrifield, MN

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Dr. Lou Cornicelli is on the Modern Carnivore Podcast talking about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer Click To Tweet

Transcript Of Podcast

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Intro: 00:09

Welcome to the Modern Carnivore Podcast, a guide for those interested in hearing more about hunting, fishing, and other paths to eating more responsibly. Now, here’s your host, Mark Norquist.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 00:22

Hello everyone, and welcome to this episode seven of the Modern Carnivore Podcast. I’d like to thank everyone who has been sending notes and a positive (comments) in terms of asking when our next episode was coming out. And I do need to apologize because I have been relatively inconsistent in pushing these out, uh, recently. And that’s mainly a function of a very busy lifestyle. And I love this platform for having conversations and introducing new people to you and new topics. And so I’m really going to put an effort this next year around putting out episodes more consistently. So, uh, look for that. And again, I appreciate your positive feedback on the recent episodes. So today I am joined by Dr Lou Cornicelli. Ah, Lou is a leading wildlife biologist who has really dedicated his career to the study of large ungulates. For those of you aren’t familiar with the term ungulates, it is a hooved mammal.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 01:31       

Uh, so things like deer, elk, moose, et cetera. And he is the Wildlife Research Manager for the Department of Natural Resources. What we talk about today is a little bit of the history of science in managing wildlife. Uh, for those of you listen to other podcasts, it is the North American model that we reference quite often. We talk about a pretty serious issue and that is chronic wasting disease or CWD. We do a pretty deep dive so that you can better understand the facts around it. And then on the back half, Lou talks about a recent, a little bit of a while ago, but uh, uh, recent Elk hunt in Colorado up at 11,000 feet when he packed in with some horses and took some new hunters and their experience. So, the main bulk of today’s conversation is on a very serious topic and that is chronic wasting disease or CWD, in deer.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 02:33

To give you a little bit of background and just to try to take a lot of this deep science and try to make it into some, some manageable chunks to understand. What it is, is a, it’s a, it’s a protein or a misshapen protein that causes a holes in the brain of the animal in, in deer in this case that were focusing on, it was first discovered in 1967 in Colorado. It’s similar to, um, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is BSC, but the more common term is mad cow disease or, uh, Creutzfeldt-Jakob (disease). Uh, which is hard to say. I don’t even know if I pronounced it properly there. But it’s a very rare disease that’s a very rare disease in humans. Uh, it’s, it’s, it’s important to note that CWD is not (been) found to transfer to humans. Uh, they have not found any, any proof to that.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 03:31

Uh, these, there’ve been studying it for quite some time and it’s a slow growing disease, but it is impacting the population levels of deer. That’s what they’re finding. And so that’s where a big concern comes about. It’s been found in at least 24 states and basically we’re going to have to live with this disease in the wild deer herd, but we can manage it in the best ways possible. And that’s I think something that is important. And again, no, that there isn’t any evidence that this disease can be transferred to humans. Now that being said, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) does recommend not eating any meat from an infected dear, um, just to, just to be, just to be safe. But this disease really does cause concern for all of us, both the health and safety of our wildlife as well as the economic costs and risks to activities like deer hunting, which in the state of Minnesota, hunting both deer and other animals represents $1.3 `billion of economic value to this state every year.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 04:45

So it’s a, it’s a very significant economic impact as well as all of the other benefits of, of this form of hunting. So I also want to to, to preface this conversation for new hunters with, with the, the statement of, you know, don’t, don’t let this discussion dampen your enthusiasm about getting out into the woods. This is an issue that you need to be aware of and you need to understand it better. Hopefully today’s discussion helps in that process, but it shouldn’t stop you from continuing your hunting journey. Uh, make sure you engage with others and ask questions so that you’re informed on the topic and you know, what’s, what’s going on.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 05:34

So a personal note now, um, this topic of CWD has gotten very personal for me in just the last 24 hours. This upcoming discussion, you’re going to listen to Dr. Cornicelli and I talk and we actually recorded this in the fall of 2017 so a while ago. And we reference in that discussion a cervid farm near my hometown of Brainerd, Minnesota. And it’s not too far from my hunting camp. Well, just yesterday, about 14 months after this discussion with Dr. Cornicelli We have our first recorded CWD-positive wild deer case outside of what’s considered the hot zone, which are three counties down in southeast Minnesota. This is where the disease within our state has historically been found through testing. And so this press release that just came out yesterday is regarding a wild deer from northern Minnesota, nearly 300 miles from the southeast region of the state where that hot zone is and and wild deer have have been tested and found to have the disease. However, this, this announcement yesterday also points out that it was only a half mile from the captive cervid farm that Dr. Cornicelli and I are talking about in this conversation from nearly two years ago.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 07:03

And so the important thing to know is that that cervid farm, did/head previously been found to have CWD-positive deer inside their fences. Another thing I’d like to clarify because there’s a lot of terms thrown around and just to make sure everybody understands this, so when we talk about captive cervid farms, what are they? It’s really a fenced-`in area, generally wooded acreage or a farm where deer and elk are captive and then harvested through shooting. I wouldn’t call it hunting or as Dr. Cornicelli says, it’s high fence killing of domesticated animals. So you might hear terms, other terms reference of these types of operations, either highfence hunts or shooting pens or shooting preserves. But that’s what we’re talking about here. And I’m sure that most of these captive cervid farms are doing everything they can to contain their animals and stop the spread of this disease. But the reality is that the evidence points to an undeniable connection between these outfits and the disease.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 08:16

Minnesota has confirmed CWD in seven, at least seven, I believe, farmed cervid operations. So we know it’s there. Uh, the announcement yesterday again, was just within a half mile of a captive cervid facility. And that same facility had previously had CWD-positive deer found inside, inside of their fences. And, so then the question may come of, okay, well where did it come from inside of that farm? Well, that farm had previously bought a deer or exchanged deer with another cervid farm that the USDA had found had also had CWD and they actually bought it, the USDA bought that farm and depopulated it . In other words they euthanized every one of the deer because of the risk of it was posing to the herd.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 09:17

So the reality is that when deer are transported from one operation to another, we, we see a connection in that transfer of CWD. And here in Minnesota, like many states across the US, the challenge is that, um, the Board Of Animal Health oversees regulation of livestock such as these farms, but the Department of Natural Resources oversees the regulation and management of the wild deer herd. And all we have between those two populations are these wire fences. And the reality is, um, that, that there are oftentimes breaches in these and we get a mixture of those, those two herds.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 10:05

So the question you need to consider is what level of risk are we willing to take with our wild deer herd and what can be done to manage the risk in the best way possible? Here in Minnesota, right now, we have a legislator, Minnesota representative, Jamie Becker-Finn. Uh, she recently introduced legislation, um, or discuss legislation this last week to get in front of CWD and better manage the risks to our deer herd and the hunting community. And I’ll put information on, on those, those, uh, links within the shownotes page.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 10:45

So, I hope today’s conversation is informative and that you come away with some new insights on these topics and, uh, enjoy.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 10:57

Okay. I am joined this morning here with Lou Cornicelli. Uh, who is a, I believe your current role is wildlife research manager.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Lou: 11:05

I am.

Mark: 11:05    

Okay. Great. For the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Um, I’ve known Lou for quite a few years here. I think we met with the adult mentored hunt.

Lou: 11:15   

We mentored adult learn to hunt folks. Yeah. Saint Croix State Park.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 11:21 

Absolutely. Um, and, uh, and so, you know, I’ve, I’ve obviously read a lot of things in terms of you, you were previously, uh, the big game program leader here in Minnesota, correct?

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Lou: 11:33


Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 11:33

Okay. And in that role, you from a biologist perspective are setting standards for management of, of the deer herd, correct?

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Lou: 11:44 

Correct. Yeah. We, everything from helping set population goals with a public process to designing regulations that at the time that I started, the regulations were designed, or, I was charged with figuring out easier ways to kill deer. So we’d, we’d gotten rid of the lottery system in 2003 and a lot of the state. And so, you know, the goals were to make it easier for people to get out and hunt and take deer. Figure out what those populations should be. And also we did a lot of work on looking at alternative regulations. Uh, we did a lot of antler point restriction research that, that culminated in that APR that’s down in the southeastern Minnesota. So we, you know, do a lot with deer, you know, and then that big game position also covers moose and elk. So it’s a, it’s a fulltime times two job.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 12:34             

So here’s one thing that I think a lot of people, actually, there was, there was a study this last year, uh, on, on general American population regarding the topic of hunting and I found it interesting that a lot of people did not realize, or do not realize, um, that, that the animal populations are managed. Uh, they just sort of, you know, have this idea that people grab a gun and go out and hunt and they aren’t regulated. And so, maybe if you could share with people just what is the basics of, I mean, your discipline in terms of how, how wildlife is managed?

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Lou: 13:08              

Yeah, I mean that’s, that’s uh, it’s a good history to tell. Um, a lot of wildlife harvest was unregulated through the turn of the 20th century, into the 1900s. And that’s where you saw the depletion of game populations, extinction of some species like the passenger pigeon. Um, the dramatic declines in waterfowl for plumage, uh, uh, you know, in 1903 Theodore Roosevelt designated the first National Wildlife Refuge – Pelican Island. Um, so that, that conservation history really started with, uh, the Boone and Crockett club that was formed by Gifford Pincho and Theodore Roosevelt and others through a conservation congress. And it’s evolved over time. And really the first game laws came into, uh, into effect in the very early 1900s with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 the Lacey act in 1900 or 1903. So we, we had this, we being our, you know, the, the folks who thought deeply about perpetuation of games, species, um, started to institute, these laws and over time starting really with Aldo Leopold in Wisconsin, we had this, this field called wildlife management and people started to, to, to manage game populations and Leopold wrote a book and I think it was 1933 or 38 called Game Management. And that’s still a book that students have to read. It’s the basic premise of managing fish and game populations for the public good. And this profession has really evolved through that time. And it’s that modern conservation through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses that gives us the, the species that we have today. So we, we work, we work are managed under a system where users pay the form of licenses but everyone benefits. And that benefit is, it can be consumptive, it can be nonconsumptive so that, you know, our field really came about as a product of over harvest and no regulations to where it is now, where we’ve actively manage wildlife species and more, more importantly, their habitats for the benefit of both the species and the folks that like to use them.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Mark: 15:18            

You know, and that, that’s something that, that I love. I love telling that story of, of, of um, hunters and anglers who raised their hands and said, we need to self regulate back when they’re back, when there were problems. And I think it a, it was a very, the outcome was exactly what you said, what we have today and we’ve got healthy populations, we’ve got these wonderful wild places that everyone has access to and can benefit from.

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Lou: 15:47       

Yeah, I agree. You know, and I think what I think what does also get lost. Um, if you think about, let’s, let’s forget anglers, I don’t, I don’t deal so much with the event, but, uh, if you think about hunters, I, uh, the most people and probably including hunters, don’t know that this thing we call the North American model of wildlife conservation is funded by people who, by hunting and fishing licenses. And I can speak for my agency, a division of fish and wildlife. I work in the section of wildlife. We get no tax revenue. We didn’t, we get zero for general fund money. Now we get outdoor heritage money that we compete for.

Remainder pending…

Podcast: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

Outro: 29:36

Thanks for listening to the Modern Carnivore podcast on Chronic Wasting Disease with Dr. Lou Cornicelli. You can continue the journey by going to

Posted by Mark

Mark Norquist is Publisher and Editor of Modern Carnivore. He's spent a good part of his life outdoors. He has a passion for hunting, fishing, foraging and eating healthy food.