In just a few days, Minnesotans from across the state will take part in a tradition many of us look forward to each fall: the firearms deer hunting season.

The opportunity to get outside, the challenge of the hunt, time with family and friends, and tasty recipes with venison all highlight why this tradition continues year after year. Across a wealth of both public and private lands, over a half-million Minnesotans participate in this tradition annually.

This activity has a considerable impact on our state economy. Deer hunting itself generates approximately $500 million each year in economic activity, while habitats that support deer help make up Minnesota’s overall outdoor recreation economy which totals $14 billion annually. In addition to retail sales of clothing and equipment, the hospitality industry in areas like northern Minnesota count on strong numbers of deer hunters for continued prosperity.

Whether because of the social, recreational or economic reasons, it’s critically important for us to proactively work to protect our deer habitat. People who hunt deer value a strong, sustainable population and are committed to being partners in our conservation goals.

Our state’s deer population is facing a threat in the form of chronic wasting disease. CWD is a neurological condition spread animal-to-animal between cervid species that slowly and progressively leads to brain degeneration. It is always fatal with no known cure.

Other states, including Wisconsin, have seen severe outbreaks. In Minnesota, we have a responsibility to develop a multifaceted approach to avoid situations like that.

CWD has been found in Minnesota, but the good news is that it’s relatively rare and has been largely contained to southeastern Minnesota. Fifty cases of CWD in wild deer have been found in that region since 2016 with a single case located in Crow Wing County last January, just a half-mile from a deer farm where CWD had previously been detected.

This past legislative session, lawmakers took some bipartisan steps to combat the spread of CWD, such as additional inspections and fencing requirements for deer farms, funding for further research and new diagnostic testing, establishment of an “adopt-a-dumpster” program for dedicated carcass disposal, and new protocols when CWD is discovered within a herd.

In 2018, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources updated its CWD Surveillance and Management Plan incorporating new scientific research. Steps the agency has taken thus far include redrawn boundaries of management zones, efforts to study movement of deer, a ban on recreational deer feeding within management zones and deployment of self-service CWD sampling stations. The DNR, the Board of Animal Health, and the University of Minnesota's Center for Animal Health and Food Safety continue to research, develop and implement strategies to address CWD in Minnesota.

CWD’s emergence is cause for concern, but not alarm. With a commitment to good management practices on the part of state agencies and deer hunters alike, along with continued groundbreaking research on the disease, we can contain CWD and limit its impact on our state’s deer population.

In recent years, the success rate for deer hunters has hovered around 30 percent, and this year, I sincerely hope you will be among those successful in your quest to bag a deer. Whether you’re just starting out as a hunter or have been doing it for decades, it’s always a good idea to brush up on sound safety practices.

Be sure to have a detailed map of the area you’re hunting, carry a survival kit with first aid materials and always let someone else know where you’re planning to hunt and when you plan to return. For a comprehensive safety refresher, the Minnesota DNR has a free online course available at HunterCourse.com.

Along with your family and friends, I hope your deer hunting season will be successful, enjoyable and safe. I also hope that looking ahead, Minnesota will continue to have a healthy, vibrant deer habitat and we can pass these traditions down from generation to generation.

Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko, represents District 11A in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He can be contacted at 651-296-4308 or rep.mike.sundin@house.mn.