A special legislative session has been called by Gov. Tim Walz as state elected officials look to actually finish something – anything - this year in St. Paul.

That means there is still a chance for the Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Bill, HF 28, to get some action and be passed in one form or another.

As of this week it was still in committee so whether it gets done or not is still up in the air.

The bill is key to funding a lot of outdoors related projects – including Phase II of the Voyageurs Wolf Project – and addresses a number of hot topics including Cervidae farms, watercraft operator safety program, invasive species permits, wild rice leases, and various other provisions.

Cervidae farms have been under a microscope for several years now, particularly since the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease has grown. CWD is easily transmitted from one deer to another when they are in close proximity like they would be on a Cervidae farm.

If an infected deer gets out of the property, it can do a lot of damage in a hurry.

A Cervidae farm is just a fancy word for a deer farm where owners breed and raise animals like deer and elk for sale to certain types of industry, including the type of hunting lands where those owners charge hunters big bucks to come and shoot giant, unnatural bucks standing in fenced in areas next to a bunch of other trophy bucks.

Sort of like the type of places those outdoor channel hunters hunt on your television screen.

It’s most likely CWD started on a deer farm and spread from there. When a farm deer with CWD gets loose (or are let out the back gate when no one is looking because they are too small, or sick, or not what sells tickets) there is a good chanced they will infect part of the wild deer herd.

That is a situation the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is desperately trying to control, and the agency and state wildlife leaders are looking for the ability to be able to act quick when a farm deer or elk gets loose to minimize the effect.

Currently, the law states that Cervidae’s running at large is prohibited and the owners

of farmed deer have 24 hours to contact the DNR and must be allowed to capture the animal during that time frame before anyone else can kill it.

New wording in the bill changes that time frame to “immediately” and allows for licensed hunters to “kill and possess escaped farmed Cervidae,” and not be liable to the owner for loss of the animal.

The Cervidae must also be tested for CWD at the owner’s expense.

Further, if the law is passed, game farm owners will be required to identify all of their deer and elk via Board of Animal Health approved measures including incorporating either GPS technology or what basically would be a name tag attached to the animal.

The state is finally going to put some pressure on game farm owners to be more responsible for their stock.

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HF28 provides a total appropriation of $61,367,000 in fiscal year 2021 from the environment and natural resources trust fund. It also includes a total appropriation of $2,768,000 in fiscal year 2020 that became available due to the withdrawal and cancellation of a previously funded project.

The bill also:

•Provides $575,000 for the second phase of the Voyageurs Wolf Project.

•Provides $400,000 to continue a study by the board of Regents of the University of Minnesota for the Natural Resources Research Institute in Duluth to identify potential solutions to reverse the fisher population decline through the better understanding of habitat, diet, and activity patterns of bobcats and fishers.

•Expands a provision prohibiting the importation of Cervidae carcasses (e.g. deer, elk, and moose). Under current law, a person cannot import a hunter harvested Cervidae carcass unless it has been processed to meet certain requirements to ensure it has been cleaned of all brain tissue and the spinal column (e.g. cut and wrapped meat, finished taxidermy mounts, or quartered without the spinal column or head attached). This section would expand the provision to all Cervidae carcasses, not just hunter-harvested ones.

•Amends the list of permissible firearms to take big game and wolves to accommodate muzzle loading firearms with electronic ignitions and encapsulated powder charge ignition systems.

•Allows the use of crossbows during the deer hunting season during all firearm seasons except the muzzleloader season.

•Requires the DNR to manage a portion of Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park located south of Highway 169 as a secondary unit that is designated as a state recreation area. Requires ingress and egress on designated routes by off- highway vehicles in the secondary unit into campgrounds and overnight facilities south of the highway.

•Allows the DNR to assess applicants for a lease of state land for a recreational trail or facility a monitoring fee to cover the reasonable costs of monitoring the construction and preparing the terms and conditions. Requires the DNR to provide the applicant an estimate of the fee before requiring it to be submitted.

•Adds land to the statutory boundaries of the Iron Range Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area.

•Amends the definition of “unloaded” to accommodate muzzle loading firearms with electronic encapsulated powder charge ignition systems added to the list of allowable firearms in section 41.

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