Deer hunting

An advisory panel is poised to vote on recommendations calling on the state to step up its efforts to stop the spread of CWD through the deer herd.

PATRICK DURKIN, For the State Journal

A panel reviewing Wisconsin’s handling of a deadly deer disease will vote Wednesday on wide-ranging recommendations calling for the state to be more aggressive in efforts to slow the incurable infection’s spread through the herd.

Preliminary recommendations would direct the state to make fighting Chronic Wasting Disease its primary goal in setting hunting quotas, intensify its tracking of the disease and consider culling deer from afflicted areas.

Others include extending bans on feeding deer statewide, more enforcement against moving carcasses from infected areas, and establishment of stricter regulations to prevent outbreaks originating in deer farms.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan Review Committee began meeting in October and sent its initial recommendations to advisory councils in all 72 counties.

On Wednesday the committee will review the input and finalize its report that assigns priorities to its recommendations. The Department of Natural Resources will present the report to the department’s policy board, the Natural Resources Board.

Researchers have suggested strategies for reducing the deer herd in specific geographic areas, and there is a recommendation for the department to give consideration to them.

DNR staff should decide how to implement any recommendations that are incorporated into the agency’s CWD plan, said committee member George Meyer, a former DNR secretary who is the executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

But there would be a backlash from the public if the department went back to the strategy it adopted — and later abandoned — of attempting to eradicate large numbers of deer in infected areas, Meyer said.

Some of the recommendations could require additional funding and staff, Meyer said. The Legislature and the governor control funding for the agency. Elected officials have been reducing staff at the department for 20 years.

“Clearly one of the things to come from this plan is there is additional need for funding,” Meyer said.

Many committee members have favored a statewide ban on baiting deer to slow the spread of the disease. The practice is currently banned in more than 40 counties with boundaries within 10 miles of confirmed CWD cases. Many of the County Deer Advisory Councils would prefer to be able to decide on bans locally.

Proposals for tough regulations on deer farms have been resisted by owners who say they’ve been unfairly blamed for CWD’s advance through the state. Installing more secure fences would be costly, the owners have said. The state has 387 registered deer farms.

Other preliminary recommendations call for the DNR to do “sufficient” testing of deer for the disease, to cooperate with researchers and for the state to support research aimed at controlling the disease.

Members of the review committee have heard from researchers who said CWD was spreading like wildfire through the state.

Proteins called prions cause incapacitating holes in mammals’ brains. CWD prions affect deer and a few other animals. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention haven’t found CWD in humans.

The prions are virtually indestructible, so a deer can deposit them in soil and they will linger indefinitely. They often incubate for years before a deer shows symptoms. They can mutate inside an organism and emerge with new characteristics, including the range of animal they can infect.

Wisconsin’s first cases of CWD were discovered near Mount Horeb in 2002. The DNR spent millions of dollars trying to eradicate it by killing deer in the infection zone. Hunters and landowners resisted, calling the strategy impractical and a waste of venison.

Scott Walker criticized DNR deer management in his 2010 campaign for his first term as governor. As governor, Walker oversaw a much less aggressive stance. Testing for CWD has dwindled, but in March the DNR said 9.4 percent of 3,133 deer carcasses sampled in 2015 were infected, the highest rate yet.

Last year Walker called for more study and asked for advice on guidelines for deer farms. He didn’t endorse reducing infected deer populations.

Illinois has maintained a 1 percent CWD rate in part by killing as many deer as possible in infected areas.

The review panel is scheduled to meet from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Lussier Family Heritage Center, 3101 Lake Farm Road in Madison.

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