ST. PAUL — State conservation officials are planning two special hunts in southeastern Minnesota to keep the spread of a deadly disease affecting the state's wild deer population in check.

The hunts are scheduled for two weekends: Dec. 26 and 27, and Jan. 2 and 3.

Residents and nonresidents are able to participate, as are bowhunters, according to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources news release. The hunts will take place in deer permit areas 343, 643, 645, 646, 647, 648, 649, 655 in addition to permit area 605.

Participating hunters are required to submit samples from the carcass of any deer they collect at self-service stations so they can be tested for chronic wasting disease. A carcass cannot be removed from any place designated as a CWD management area unless it tests negative for the disease.

In the news release, the Minnesota DNR said the hunts help to identify places in the state where the disease is most prevalent. Limiting population density in such areas is important, according to the news release, because the disease can be spread by direct contact with deer saliva, blood, feces, antler velvet and carcasses.

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Only 104 deer have tested positive for the always-fatal disease since 2002, when the disease first discovered in Minnesota, but it nonetheless remains a concern for wildlife officials. Surveillance and management areas across Minnesota have been established to monitor for the disease, tests for which have been conducted on approximately 90,000 deer carcasses and counting.