News Release

Innovative collaboration between Tribal communities and U of M to slow CWD spread

Leech Lake tribal member meeting
Meeting with Leech Lake tribal community members May 17, 2023. Pictured From left to right: Raining White, Keith Karnes, Kate Hagsten and Robie Rock. Credit: Tonya Seiler

Several Tribal Nations in Minnesota are combining forces with the University of Minnesota in a groundbreaking collaboration aimed at stopping the continued spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) on and near Tribal lands. Together, they’re developing one of the first tribal CWD management plans in the U.S.

This new collaboration includes the White Earth Department of Natural Resources, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Division of Resource Management, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Department of Natural Resources, and University researchers. The group will jointly explore solutions through a series of workshops on CWD ecology, community expertise and management strategies.  

“Deer are an important cultural resource that is used by tribal members to sustain their families, spiritual connection and way of life,” said Tanya Roerick, a biologist for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. “CWD threatens this, so it is important we develop a management plan that fits the needs of our tribal members and combats the spread of this disease.”

This project was funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and the University of Minnesota Office for Public Engagement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey, Minnesota Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, a reflection of the many different stakeholders interested in CWD management.

CWD is a fast-spreading, always fatal neurological disease in cervids — animals like deer, elk and moose — caused by malformed proteins called prions. Because CWD is highly infectious, strategies to prevent its spread are the primary tools for natural resources managers and others to help keep deer and other cervids healthy.

As of June 2023, CWD in elk and/or white-tailed deer has been reported in 11 Minnesota counties, including those adjacent to the tribal lands of the White Earth Nation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and Red Lake Band of Chippewa. This comes along with reports of positive cases in 31 other states in the U.S. and other locations around the globe.

“The threat and potential for the spread of CWD on any of our three reservations has the ability to negatively impact Ojibwe culture and traditions of deer hunting and providing venison for our membership,” said Doug McArthur, a tribal biologist from White Earth Nation. “Tribes must be ready with a plan to manage and mitigate the effects of CWD with the support of membership to ensure that the time-honored and culturally significant practice of harvesting deer is maintained for future generations.”

Researchers envision the process and the resulting plans will provide a template for the co-management of CWD between tribes and the state, for other Minnesota communities and beyond.

“The critical piece of this is the recognition that deer harvest is an important subsistence practice, an important aspect of food sovereignty, and the use of deer products can also be tied to traditional, ceremonial practices,” said Tiffany Wolf, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “We are constantly reminded of those things in these conversations, and it's essential that the management plans that come out of this not only curb CWD transmission but also honor those needs and preserve those practices.”


About the College of Veterinary Medicine
The University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine affects the lives of animals and people every day through educational, research, service, and outreach programs. Established in 1947, the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine is Minnesota’s only veterinary college. Fully accredited, the college has graduated over 4,000 veterinarians and hundreds of scientists. The college is also home to the Veterinary Medical Center, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the Leatherdale Equine Center and The Raptor Center. Learn more at

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Rachel Cain

University Public Relations