CHICAGO Wisconsin wildlife officials
will ask rural landowners to help them thin the state's
large deer population in a rare springtime cull intended
to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, a Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spokesman said Thursday.
The state agency intends to issue permits that will
allow landowners in parts of southwest Wisconsin to
shoot as many deer on their property as they want, possibly
starting as early as May 6, said DNR spokesman Bob Manwell.
"Our goal is to significantly reduce the (deer) population
in the area. We hope to get as many as we can," Manwell
The agency is working on a plan to address the issue
of deer on state-owned lands as well.
The operation will focus on an area west of the capital
city of Madison in which a total of 14 deer have tested
positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). The illness,
a fatal brain disorder affecting deer and elk, causes
weight loss and other symptoms similar to mad cow disease.
While mad cow has never been diagnosed in the U.S.
cattle herd, CWD has been present in North American
deer and elk for decades, with most cases concentrated
in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. There is no evidence
that the disease can spread to cattle or humans.
In March, state officials announced that three Wisconsin
deer shot by hunters last fall had tested positive for
the disease, the first cases east of the Mississippi
River. The state Department of Natural Resources then
killed 516 deer from the surrounding area and had brain
tissue samples tested to gauge the scope of the outbreak.
The agency said this week that the testing was complete,
and that 11 deer from the sample group had tested positive
Rather than wait for regular hunting season to begin
in the fall, Manwell said the state wants to take quick
action to stem the spread of CWD. With a statewide herd
of about 1.5 million deer, Wisconsin has more than Minnesota,
its larger neighbor, and far more than states like Nebraska
and Colorado, where CWD was first seen.
The Wisconsin deer population is also relatively dense,
a factor that researchers believe could hasten the spread
of the disease. No one knows exactly how CWD is transmitted,
but animal-to-animal contact is a prevailing theory.
Wildlife officials want to limit such contact by thinning
out the herd as soon as possible even during the
spring season when deer are rearing fawns and hunting
is normally forbidden.
"We feel that this is an extraordinary situation,
and it's going to take some extraordinary actions which
may be distasteful," Manwell said. Wisconsin is also
considering extending the dates of its regular fall
hunting season and relaxing limits on the number and
age of deer that can be killed, Manwell said. Most permits
allow hunters to take only one or two deer.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that
the state wants to test 10,000 to 15,000 deer for CWD
Manwell said it was too early to project how many
deer would be taken this spring. Some will be tested
for CWD, while most of the carcasses will be buried
in landfills. "It's doubtful that we'll be testing every
one of them. The testing capacity just doesn't exist
right now to test huge numbers of deer," Manwell said.