One marvels at the tired, say-nothing headline the Department of Natural Resources put on a news release last week when soft-peddling the latest bad news about chronic wasting disease.
It read, “Disease sampling results provide current snapshot of CWD in Wisconsin.”
If the DNR had been steering the Titanic, it would have told passengers: “Damage-control party assesses condition of ship’s hull.”
The lead paragraph of the news releases said little more. Paraphrasing now, state wildlife officials tested more than 5,400 deer for CWD in 2014, and found 329 sick ones, primarily in the endemic area of southern Wisconsin.
One more Titanic analogy: That’s like saying the damage-control party inspected the ship’s 16 watertight compartments and found water in five of them.
OK. Is that good or bad?
Wait. Let’s ask our 72 county deer advisory committees next week if CWD is increasing, decreasing or maintaining.
If the DNR were leveling with us about this natural resource we’ve entrusted it to manage, the agency would release a statement like this:
Despite sampling the second-lowest number of deer in Wisconsin’s 14-year CWD-testing program, state wildlife officials documented a record 6.1 percent disease rate for 5,414 tests in 2014. That’s the third straight year the disease rate exceeded 5 percent of tested deer, as well as the third straight year the number of sick deer exceeded 325.
The only year in which the DNR collected fewer samples than in 2014 was 2011, when it collected 5,313. The four lowest years for CWD sampling have all been since the current administration took office in January 2011.
For further perspective on the meaning of 329 CWD cases in 2014, consider that the DNR collected nearly 14 times as many tests from 2001 through 2004 (75,295 samples) to find Wisconsin’s first 328 cases.
Granted, many of those early samples came from outside the known disease area when assessing the entire state. But even when sampling became more targeted, the disease rate took until 2007 and 2008 to approach 1.5 percent, but then hit 3 percent by 2010 and 4.5 percent by 2011.
CWD, of course, is always fatal. Once deer contract it, their life expectancy is 18 months. They typically look healthy for about the first 16 months of the death sentence before showing its effects. Those signs include drooling, staggering, and stark ribs and spine outlined beneath a ratty hide.
Not until the fourth paragraph of the DNR news release does it cite disease rates. For instance, a region covering northwestern Dane and northeastern Iowa counties has disease rates of 25 percent for adult bucks (2½ years and older), over 10 percent for adult females, and 8 percent and 7 percent, respectively for yearling males and females (1½ years old).
Unfortunately, those Dane/Iowa county prevalence rates aren’t current. CWD in that area hit those marks in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, it hit 27 percent and 12 percent.
More curious is that the news release doesn’t mention CWD rates a few miles west of there in north-central Iowa County. The rate there was a record 40 percent and 22 percent, respectively, for adult bucks and does. Further, CWD rates for the area’s yearling bucks and does was 18 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
Make no mistake: The DNR isn’t hiding this information. It just isn’t sharing or explaining much of it. So, if you’re on or near a computer, visit this DNR website:
http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/prevalence.html. Next, scroll to the bottom section titled “CWD prevalence trends,” study the map, and click on the yellow dots in southwestern Sauk County north of Spring Green, and southeastern Richland County south of Richland Center. Now click on the “prevalence graph” to see the charts that show how fast CWD is increasing in those areas, which had few sick deer only seven years ago.
These graphs should concern us. Disease rates in these areas relatively new to CWD are climbing far faster than when it first surfaced in 2001 and 2002. The disease rate for adult bucks is already about 27 percent north of Spring Green, and about 23 percent south of Richland Center.
Not surprisingly, the DNR used about half of its news release to share the scant good news about CWD. For the third straight year it found no additional CWD cases in northwestern Wisconsin around Washburn County, where one sick doe tested positive in 2012. Also, it found only two additional cases in Adams County after first finding CWD in central Wisconsin in 2012.
Unfortunately, the DNR waited until the news release’s final sentence to share its most helpful information: “For 2014 sampling and prevalence, and more information regarding chronic wasting disease, visit the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, and search the keyword ‘CWD.’ ”
Maybe that should have been its weak headline.
Contact Patrick Durkin, a freelance writer who covers outdoors recreation for the Wisconsin State Journal, at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at 721 Wesley St., Waupaca, WI 54981.