State will test up to 15,000 more deer
Plan to fight chronic wasting disease includes
statewide ban on feeding
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff
Madison - As part of a sweeping plan to fight
chronic wasting disease, state officials said Wednesday
they hope to test 10,000 to 15,000 deer for the disease
this fall, as well as ban feeding and baiting of deer
The latest initiatives come one week after the Department
of Natural Resources proposed "radically" changing hunting
regulations to limit the spread of the deadly brain disease
by killing more deer near the source of the outbreak in
But fighting the disease will be hard, and if it goes
unchecked, Wisconsin's deer population could be sharply
reduced by the disease, members of the Natural Resources
Board were told Wednesday.
Hunters might be reluctant to spend extra time killing
deer this fall, especially in 10 counties surrounding
the outbreak of the disease near Mount Horeb in western
Dane and eastern Iowa counties.
Testing for the diseases also faces serious logistical
problems. And there are questions about how the carcasses
of tens of thousands of deer can be properly disposed.
Also on Wednesday, the DNR reported one more deer that
tested positive for the disease from the final samples
submitted to a federal laboratory in Ames, Iowa.
That brings to 11 the number of new cases of chronic
wasting disease from 516 deer that were killed and sampled
in a 415-square-mile surveillance area. The first three
deer that tested positive were the result of routine testing
during the 2001 deer hunt.
All 14 deer that tested positive were discovered within
13 miles of each other.
Big challenge ahead
"Now comes the most difficult task," said Julie Langenberg,
a DNR veterinarian. "Now we have to take this data, along
with the small amount of science there is, and make further
The big job: how much to reduce the deer herd and how
wide of an area should be affected by the DNR's actions.
Langenberg and a team of scientists and wildlife experts
from several state agencies are mapping out their plans.
They told DNR board members that the agency should seek
authority to ban feeding of deer across the state. They
also said Wisconsin's entire wild deer population should
be viewed as a single "at-risk" group - not just the animals
in south-central Wisconsin.
The DNR now has authority to ban baiting but does not
have the power to control the feeding of deer - a popular
practice among hunters and non-hunters alike.
The state Assembly passed a measure giving the DNR such
authority as part of its version of the budget adjustment
bill now pending in the Legislature. That bill is now
being negotiated by lawmakers.
Feeding ban a 'no-brainer'
Experts don't know how chronic wasting disease - also
called mad deer disease - infected Wisconsin's deer herd,
although it was probably the result of someone bringing
in a diseased animal from outside the state, Langenberg
But experts believe feeding deer and high concentrations
help spread the disease, she said.
While some board members questioned whether an outright
ban on feeding was necessary, Langenberg said afterward
it was essential.
"It's a no-brainer," she said.
The state's chronic wasting team also wants to test more
deer, and as many as 15,000 deer could be tested during
the fall hunt, Langenberg said. However, even that proposal
For starters, there is no facility in Wisconsin to test
the brains of deer for the disease.
The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison
would perform the work, but it would require approval
from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Private laboratories
also have expressed an interest in getting into the business
at some time, Langenberg said.
Hiring personnel and ramping up the lab to accommodate
an onslaught of deer would cost $1 million, with annual
operation costs of $400,000 to $500,000, said Robert Shull,
the lab's director. The lab has no funding for the project
The DNR is asking the Legislature to increase its funding
for chronic wasting disease from $1 million to $4 million,
using money from a hunter-financed fund it doles out to
farmers whose crops are damaged by deer.
How bad can it get?
On another front, University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists
are developing a computer model of what might happen if
the disease goes unchecked.
A study further along in Colorado of mule deer, where
chronic wasting disease was discovered earlier, has shown
that the deer population in Colorado would fall to 20%
of its current population over 10 to 30 years if no protective
measures were taken to curtail the disease.
"We don't know what will happen in Wisconsin, but from
what we know now, it spreads faster among white-tailed
deer," Langenberg said.
Thus, the DNR is poised to recommend a far more liberal
hunting season by reducing the population to 10% of its
size near the outbreak area and increasing bag limits
in 10 surrounding counties. The DNR board is expected
to review those changes for the fall hunt at its June
Hunters played a key role in killing the 516 deer that
were tested for the prevalence of the disease near Mount
"We really hope that the hunters step forward again,
but it won't be easy," said Bill Vander Zouwen, chief
of the DNR's wildlife ecology section.
Hunters will need to get on land that is currently not
open to hunting, he said. And with the safety of the venison
in question, hunters might be reluctant to spend more
time hunting, he said.