County Board makes a likely empty statement

THE COUNTY BOARD MADE a statement on the issue of controlling the spread of chronic wasting disease in the state’s deer herd at their last meeting.

But it may well prove to be an empty – and unenforceable - gesture.

After lengthy debate that included a lecture from Supervisor – and conservationist – Jim Baumgart, the board decided – by a margin of just five votes – to keep the county’s ban on feeding deer in place.

That’s despite a recently-passed state law which lifted the ban in more than 60 percent of the counties in the state, including Sheboygan County.

That’s why the board’s action may prove to be an empty gesture.

Inspector Jim Risseeuw of the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department admitted that, in cases of complaints regarding hunting or wildlife violations, his department typically refers the complaint to the local Department of Natural Resources wardens.

Those wardens operate under and enforce state law, which currently allows deer feeding and baiting in Sheboygan County – in effect, making the county ban on feeding and baiting unenforceable.

The 13 supervisors who voted to keep the county ban in place did so out of a genuine concern about limiting and controlling the spread of the deadly disease in the wild deer herd.

And there is also a valid concern about its spread to the human population as well. The issue of whether CWD can be spread to humans is still open, but there is the possibility that it could follow the model of mad cow disease and lead to its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.

Fortunately, in the decade and a half since the first case of CWD was discovered in deer in Wisconsin, there has not been even one reported case of the disease in any deer from Sheboygan County, wild or captive.

The initial concern in the county arose because the disease was found in deer in captive herds in neighboring Manitowoc County. The closest case of confirmed CWD in wild deer to us was in Waukesha County. Most of the cases of CWD have been confined to the southwest part of the state thus far.

But the concern about the disease spreading is still real and the chance of deer feed being shared by infected and uninfected deer is still a possibility.

However, those who urged repeal of the county’s ban were correct as well that the ban is probably not enforceable and is already being violated locally in some cases.

The state action will allow hunters to use their discretion as to whether or not to feed or bait deer during hunting season. But it does not, nor should it, obviate the need for taking precautions against CWD.

Chief among those is having any deer harvested by hunters tested for CWD – which the DNR will do for free. Even in the four counties with the highest prevalence of CWD only 10 percent of deer harvested were tested last year.

Additionally, hunters should have their deer processed at a facility which process each deer individually and does not mix different deer together in processing.

Those are common sense precautions all hunters should be taking to reduce the risk of CWD spreading. The state’s action – taken without consulting affected local units of government – places more of the prevention burden on individual hunters. They must now step up and take on that responsibility.

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