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Islands on Mille Lacs, Pelican lakes may be closed

Spirit Island on Mille Lacs Lake and Gooseberry Island on Pelican Lake could potentially be closed if the virulent Newcastle disease is confirmed from tests of dead birds, DNR officials said Friday.

Erika Butler, a DNR wildlife veterinarian, said clinical signs indicate the possibility of the disease on the Mille Lacs island, but the test results may not be available for a couple of weeks. She said preliminary tests indicate the disease may be present on the Pelican Lake island and those results are expected sooner.

No decision on closing the islands was expected on Friday.

Newcastle disease, DNR officials said, is a viral disease that most commonly affects cormorants, but also affects gulls and pelicans. Clinical signs of infection in wild birds are often neurological and include a droopy head or twisted neck, lack of coordination, inability to fly or dive and complete or partial paralysis. Juvenile birds are most commonly affected, according to the DNR news release.

The DNR statement continued: “Wild birds can be a potential source of Newcastle disease and transmit the virus to domestic poultry if there is contact with them.”

Spirit Island is located in the southern end of the Mille Lacs Lake. Gooseberry Island is owned by Breezy Point Resort and often is the home of goats that keep the vegetation down.

Butler said the DNR deals with these types of situations every couple of years. She said if the islands are closed signs are posted in the area and the public is informed. Since Gooseberry is privately owned, she said, the DNR would work with the property owner.

She said she did not think Spirit Island was visited by recreational boaters very often, describing it as “big boulders white-washed with bird poop.”

Islands in Minnesota and Pigeon lakes in southern Minnesota will be posted as closed to trespass until risk of the potential spread of the virulent Newcastle disease has diminished there, the DNR said.

The DNR closed the islands to waterfowl hunters and all other lake users after the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the disease from samples collected during cleanup of dead cormorants in early August.

Although Newcastle disease rarely affects humans, it can occasionally cause conjunctivitis, a relatively mild inflammation of the inner eyelids, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Minnesota Lake’s restricted island is located near the western shore and is the site of a large water bird nesting colony. Temporarily lowered water levels have exposed the lake bed, providing a land route to the island.

Results from samples submitted from bird die-offs on several other lakes throughout Minnesota are pending. If the disease is confirmed, other lakes with islands that may be closed include Johanna near Glenwood; Chautauqua and Pelican near Fergus Falls; and Wells near Faribault.

If domestic birds show signs of illness, producers should contact their veterinarian, the Board of Animal Health at 320-231-5170 or the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at 800-605-8787.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860