UMN CVM works to reach diverse Minnesota hunting communities about CWD

December 31, 2019

Scientists respond to call from state legislators to roll out translated resources and customized educational programming for Minnesota’s many cultural contexts

ST PAUL, MINN --- The University of Minnesota (UMN) College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has released new multilingual and multicultural outreach initiatives addressing chronic wasting disease (CWD). Fact sheets are now available in Korean, Khmer, and Hmong languages, and materials have also been tailored to the Amish community. The initiative has also developed customized educational programming for each community.

The CVM’s goal is to ensure that all members of Minnesota’s diverse hunting community have access to information about CWD and its prevention. The outreach efforts are a response to requests made by Minnesota Representatives Fue Lee, Jamie Becker-Finn, Jay Xiong, Rick Hansen, and other multilingual community members concerned about representation in important conversations about the impactful disease.

CWD has spread across the central United States over the past 50 years and is currently found in 26 states, including Minnesota. The transmissible neurological disease produces small brain lesions and results in abnormal behavior, weight loss, loss of bodily functions, and death. CWD affects animals in the cervid family, such as white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. 

Key collaborations

This outreach initiative was developed by the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach (MNPRO) and CVM’s Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS). MNPRO leverages cutting-edge prion research to unite a range of UMN faculty and external experts in prion diseases, animal health, cellular biology, nanotechnology, and infectious disease. CAHFS improves global animal health, food safety, and public health by building veterinary public health capacity, facilitating collaborative research, responding to emerging foreign animal diseases, and delivering relevant outreach.

The CVM researchers are collaborating with policy makers and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop CWD resources in additional languages and contexts to support safe and well-informed decision making for all Minnesotans. Many of these resources can be found on CAHFS’s CWDWatch.

Demystifying CWD

“We are at a critical moment in the fight against CWD and we must do all that we can to protect the heritage that surrounds the cervids of North America,” says Peter Larsen, PhD, assistant professor in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and co-leader of MNPRO. In October, Larsen testified at a hearing before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcomittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies about the importance of CWD testing. The subcommittee is chaired by Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum. 

Larsen says MNPRO’s focus on research is now being informed by these new outreach efforts, and vice versa. “Our eyes were opened by our legislators’ request—we need to be doing more to reach all hunting populations in Minnesota.” 

According to MNPRO Program Director Marc Schwabenlander, MPH, the hub’s expertise in answering baseline questions about prion diseases makes it the perfect collaborator. “CWD can be an enigma to most people,” he says. “And there are communities that may get their information in a specific way, or may need tailored information because of how they hunt or interact with cervids in their cultural context. We have really benefited from our legislators bringing this need to our attention, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to identify additional groups going forward.” 

Working with indigenous communities

The researchers have also been investigating ways to work with Minnesota’s tribal nations, which McCollum has recognized. Tiffany Wolf, DVM, PhD, assistant professor in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary Population Medicine and co-leader of MNPRO, is helping facilitate this arm of CWD outreach efforts. Wolf has collaborated with tribal nations through her research into wildlife health issues. Recently, she worked with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to acquire a grant to construct a tribal surveillance network for CWD. 

“We intend to work with biologists and natural resource managers on each reservation to understand their goals for CWD surveillance and determine what their Band members need to know about the disease,” Wolf says, “particularly the Band members who are hunters.” 

Wolf says the CVM’s current outreach owes its success to the spirit of collaboration between researchers, regulators, and policy makers. “The DNR does a great job of communicating changes in regulations to Minnesotans, and we can help explain how science is informing those changes. And, our partners in the Minnesota Legislature have effectively communicated the policies. We have gotten feedback already that this combination has been really impactful. Even more, this kind of outreach helps us (as scientists) understand the needs of all parties, including these diverse communities, to more effectively prioritize the research.”



Peter Larsen, [email protected], 612-626-1694
Marc Schwabenlander, [email protected], 612-624-4926
Tiffany Wolf, [email protected], 612-625-0492



Watch this story on Hmoob Twin Cities News: Chronic Wasting Disease (Mob Kab Mob Hlwb Ntuav) 


Photo courtesy of Representative Rick Hansen: Peter Larsen (right) uses slinkies to explain what a misfolded prion looks and acts like to Jeff Soma (left) of Harmony, Minn.