ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Monday, Aug. 28, it is expanding its total ban on deer feeding into 11 new counties as a precaution against the spread of chronic wasting disease.

The ban on feeding deer started Monday and will last through February 2019 for Aitkin, Crow Wing and Morrison counties, as well as the portion of Cass County south of Minnesota Highways 34 and 200, and the portion of Mille Lacs County north of County Road 11.

The ban also includes Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Stearns and Wright counties, and the portion of Renville County north of U.S. Highway 212. A feeding ban already existed in Fillmore, Houston, Olmsted, Mower and Winona counties.

Experts say chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain disease to deer also known as CWD, spreads more rapidly when animals have close face-to-face contact, such as over piles of corn, fruit and other food left by people.

"Feeding bans in central and north-central Minnesota are precautionary," said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the DNR. "Wild deer in these areas are not known to have CWD. These feeding bans are a proactive step to keep CWD at bay."

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While baiting deer during hunting season is illegal in Minnesota, many people like to feed deer to keep them around for wildlife watching. People who feed birds or small mammals in the affected counties now must do so in a manner that prevents access by deer or places the food at least 6 feet above the ground.

"Feed is not just a pile of corn or grain," Cornicelli said. "It includes salt and mineral blocks that many hunters use as well as fruits, vegetables, nuts, hay and other food that is capable of attracting or enticing deer."

Mandatory precautionary CWD testing of deer shot during this fall's hunting season will be done in portions of the new feeding ban areas to determine whether the disease may have spread from captive to wild deer. Samples will be collected from 5,400 deer harvested in permit areas immediately surrounding CWD-infected farms near Merrifield in Crow Wing County and Litchfield in Meeker County.