State doesn’t seem to be taking CWD seriously

AS HUNTERS RETURN FROM the first weekend of gun deer season, those coming back with a kill and a taste for venison will obviously want to know that the deer they shot is free of chronic wasting disease.

The state has made it harder for hunters to have that verification, though.

The number of tests is dwindling while prevalence of chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin grows and neighboring states fight to control it, Department of Natural Resources officials said.

The DNR has half the CWD testing budget it had last year and enough resources to analyze tissue from 4,000 carcasses, down from 7,500 last year, Tami Ryan, the agency’s wildlife health section chief, told the Wisconsin State Journal in a Nov. 16 report.

The state is following wishes expressed by the public in dozens of forums since the disease was discovered near Mount Horeb in 2002, Ryan said.

“Many different iterations of public input have shaped our protocol from being very aggressive in the beginning to then monitoring and now not monitoring but doing surveillance to give the information to hunters who want it,” Ryan said.

More than half the state’s 72 counties are now considered affected by CWD because cases have been found in or near them.

Last year the DNR stopped using the term “CWD management zone” for the southern Wisconsin region encompassing the worst infestations.

If you stop using the term “CWD management zone,” does that mean you’re no longer managing it?

“In the absence of having any management strategies or tools to deal with it, it is basically an endemic area,” Ryan said. “We know it’s there and it’s not likely to go away. That’s what endemic means: It’s here to stay.”

The state this year ended in-person registration at locations where DNR staffers solicited samples.

Hunters are required to register via telephone or computer.

Critics are worried about what the disease will do to the deer herd over time.

“It is going to spread further and further out and eventually have an impact on the number of deer in the state,” said George Meyer, a former DNR secretary who is now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “What is really troubling to me is that the biologists in the department know this is the case but they are not allowed to talk about it and not allowed to bring forth proactive measures to deal with it.”

CWD prevalence in the state of Wisconsin has doubled since the state became less aggressive in 2007, while in Illinois, where officials continued to reduce the herd in diseased areas, there has been no increase, University of Illinois researchers found in a 2014 study.

Meanwhile, Michigan natural resources managers last week announced they are distributing bumper stickers and putting up billboards near the Wisconsin border with the Upper Peninsula to remind hunters of restrictions on bringing deer back from infected states and provinces.

So, Michigan doesn’t want people bringing deer in from Wisconsin, but here in the Badger State we act as if we don’t have a problem.

This all seems odd bordering on reckless, both from the standpoint of DNR policy and hunters’ attitudes toward testing. It would seem to be in the interest of deer hunters to be more vigilant about CWD, not less. — The Journal Times of Racine, Nov. 22

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