WAUSAU, Wis. Hunters took to the
woods again over the weekend, hoping to kill every deer
in one part of southwestern Wisconsin to halt an outbreak
of a fatal disease.
Trouble is, wildlife officials still don't know how
they're going to dispose of the tens of thousands of
unwanted carcasses. Cremation is too costly. Landfills
won't accept the carcasses for burial. Other possibilities
are dissolving them with chemicals or opening a state-owned
"We were hoping there would be options that would
be less fraught with complications," said Sarah Shapiro
Hurley, deputy administrator for the state Department
of Natural Resources' (DNR) land division. "If worst
comes to worst, we will rent bulk, massive cold storage
until we have options," she said. "This isn't a situation
where we can afford to do nothing and cancel the hunt."
The DNR wants regular hunters and government sharpshooters
to kill all the estimated 25,000 deer in a 361-square-mile
area of Dane, Iowa, and Sauk counties, where 18 deer
with chronic wasting disease have been found since last
fall. The discovery marked the first time the disease,
a relative of mad cow disease and always fatal in deer
and elk, had been detected east of the Mississippi River.
Experts say there is no scientific evidence that chronic
wasting disease can infect humans, but the World Health
Organization advises people not to eat any part of a
deer with evidence of the disease.
In Wisconsin, the disease also jeopardizes a strong
tradition of deer hunting, a fall sport that annually
attracts 700,000 hunters. A 1996 national survey by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that deer
hunters spent $897 million on their sport a year, and
that the total economic impact would be more than $1
Although the bulk of the deer in Wisconsin's so-called
eradication zone are expected to be killed during the
regular fall hunting season, the DNR scheduled four
week-long summer hunts to begin killing deer as soon
After the first season in June, almost all of the
262 deer killed were incinerated at a pet crematorium
for $75 apiece, Shapiro Hurley said. Unwanted deer killed
in the second season that began Saturday also will be
incinerated, but after that, the state wants a less
costly solution. The DNR last week requested proposals
and bids on how to dispose of the deer.
Chronic wasting disease is caused by a little-understood
protein known as a "prion," which sets off a chain reaction
in brain tissue, causing some of the brain's own proteins
to change into an aberrant form. A related form is involved
in mad-cow disease. A deer affected with chronic wasting
disease loses weight, begins trembling and stumbling,
and dies. There is no known cure.
It takes extremely high temperatures to destroy prions,
which is one reason landfill operators are balking at
burying the deer carcasses. Dane County official Topf
Wells said that while studies suggest the health risk
from infected carcasses in landfills is minimal, there
is "strong public concern" that prions could escape
when liquid leaches from buried waste.
Brett Hulsey, a hunter, Dane County supervisor, and
chairman of a county task force on chronic wasting disease,
calls the unwanted carcasses a "3-million-pound problem."
Dane County's landfill buried about 500 carcasses
from a spring hunt that was intended to determine how
far the disease had spread. Since then, however, the
county has told the DNR it won't bury any more. A private
landfill in Jefferson County also reversed its policy
because of public objections.
The cost of incinerating all the deer could reach
$1 million, compared with $100,000 for burying them
in a landfill, Hulsey said. State officials have discussed
creating a special DNR landfill to bury the deer but
have not seriously explored the issue, Shapiro Hurley