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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Special deer hunts are planned for two consecutive weekends in December aimed at limiting the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer in southeastern Minnesota, the state Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.

The DNR announced the hunts in specific deer permit zones in the Preston area — 603, 347 and 348, and parts of zones 343 and 345 that are south of Interstate 90. Residents and nonresidents can participate in the hunts, which will take place from Dec. 21 to Dec. 23 and Dec. 28 to Dec. 30.

The agency said it's acting quickly to contain the fatal deer disease while it is concentrated in one geographic area. Reducing deer numbers will help lower densities and remove infected animals from southeastern Minnesota.

Since the disease is spread by contact with an infected deer's saliva, urine, blood, feces, antler velvet or carcass, reducing deer numbers is part of the DNR's approach to limiting the spread of the disease. The agency made the boundary for the special hunts larger than last year's special hunt to account for new infected deer found outside of the DNR's disease management zone around Preston, known as permit area 603 in Fillmore County.

Hunters should check the DNR's website at mndnr.gov/cwd for details about the hunts. The agency notes that private land makes up most of the area and that hunters must have landowner permission.

Minnesota wildlife officials and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar are pressing Congress for more funding to monitor chronic wasting in the deer herd. The DNR said 11 new cases of wild deer infected with the neurological disease were discovered this fall in or around the CWD management zone in Fillmore County. Until this hunting season, only 17 cases of CWD were confirmed in Minnesota's wild deer herds. Those cases were concentrated within a five-mile radius between Preston and Lanesboro, in southeastern Minnesota.

Permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis for each hunt for Forestville State Park and the Pin Oak Prairie Scientific and Natural Area starting at noon Wednesday. There is no fee for the permits, which can be obtained online or wherever DNR licenses are sold. The Cherry Grove Blind Valley Scientific and Natural Area, which adjoins the Cherry Grove Wildlife Management Area, also will be open to deer hunting, with no special permit required.

The disease causes brain lesions in deer, elk and moose. There is no evidence that chronic wasting infects people, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people not to eat meat from animals known to have the disease.

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