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Panel extends emergency CWD rules; baiting banned until April 1


November 8, 2002 The Capital Times by Anita Weier

Despite pleas from money-losing feed store owners and petitions from hunters, a joint committee of the state Assembly and Senate voted unanimously Thursday to extend a statewide ban on baiting and feeding deer until April 1.

The action was part of an extension of the entire emergency rule that gave the state Department of Natural Resources special powers to try to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal nervous system malady of deer and elk.

The emergency rule would have expired Nov. 30 if the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules had not acted. The DNR had asked it be extended to Sept. 1, but the committee compromised after hearing hours of testimony. The panel chose April 1 because the agency expects to have results by then from widespread testing of deer around the state to determine whether the disease exists outside of southwestern Wisconsin. More definite information would be available then about whether the ban is needed statewide.

Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, pushed for a March 1 date, because he had been told that March is a crucial month for determining whether some deer in northern Wisconsin will live through a harsh winter. But test results may not be complete by then.

Patti Rantala, co-owner of the Country Feed and Pet Store in Iron River, pleaded for an end to the ban. She said the store has lost more than $30,000 since Oct. 1.

"My husband had to go back to driving semis," she said. "We have an understanding local banker. They may come back in two years and say baiting and feeding didn't cause this, but we will have lost our business. Striking this provision gives us a chance to return to business and recoup some of our losses. If this is not rescinded today, we might as well hand the keys to our banker."

Dennis Wessel of the Prince Corp. in Marshfield said the company's lost income could amount to $300,000 a year.

Bill Schreiner of Rib Lake Roller Mills in Rib Lake said that last year he sold $250,000 in feed. "If they impose another three-to-five year ban, we'll be gone," he said.

But DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell told the committee that it was vital to keep the statewide ban on baiting and feeding in place to prevent deer from congregating unnaturally and spreading the transmissible disease. "Baiting and feeding is not an issue we should be compromising on," Bazzell said.

It is not known how the disease is spread, but it is suspected that saliva, urine and feces play a role.

Some legislators suggested allowing small piles of bait, but Bazzell said that would tend to cause even more nose-to-nose contact. Broadcasting feed was also discussed.

Several people argued that northern Wisconsin should be exempt from the ban because the disease does not exist there, but Bazzell said Wisconsin has so many deer -- 1.6 million to 1.7 million -- that the deer herd must be treated as if it is continuous.

The Concerned Hunters of Wisconsin submitted 1,600 signatures opposing the ban on baiting and feeding. Petitions submitted by Bill and Kathy Ernst of Butternut Feed Store in Butternut asking that the ban be ended had 3,000 signatures.

"The rule is arbitrary and based on speculation," said Gregg Heyrman of Elm Grove, speaking for CHOW. "The high deer population is more of a transmission risk than baiting and feeding. The more deer you have, the faster any disease can spread. Hunting is more difficult without baiting as a tool."

But Steve Oestreicher, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, noted that his organization voted in May to support a moratorium on baiting and feeding. "We had requested a three-year moratorium," he said.

The Natural Resources Board voted 6-1 in June to ban baiting and feeding statewide, but a recent vote to rescind it tied 3-3, with one absent.

One reason for the board's change and the committee's decision to shorten the time of the emergency rule extension was the economic hardship caused to feed store and feed mill owners.

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Spreading damage: However, "the economic impact goes beyond the feed stores," Bazzell said. There has been an impact on property values in the eradication zone.

"The land values have been changing a lot," agreed Dave Ladd of Dodgeville, who belongs to the Conservation Congress. He added that a farmer in the eradication zone cannot sell his beef calves because of fears by potential buyers that the disease can spread to cattle.

"You don't want CWD in your county," he said to those who wanted to end the ban on baiting and feeding. "We need to contain it."

Tests so far have shown that beef cattle do not contract the disease, even when infected material is injected directly into their brains. Some, however, have ended up with malformed protein prions, but not the actual disease. Cattle kept in close contact with deer and elk have not contracted CWD. New tests are being started by a federal laboratory in Iowa to determine whether CWD from white-tailed deer can spread to dairy cattle.

The legislative committee also voted to ask the Natural Resources Board to consider halting the removal of carcasses from the deer eradication zone, although DNR wildlife director Tom Hauge said the DNR does not have the authority to limit the transport once a deer is registered. It then becomes "household waste," he said.

The panel's attorney said he would explore the law to see what can be done.

Rep. Lorraine Seratti, R-Spread Eagle, who proposed that motion, also suggested that the DNR itself be prevented from using baiting in the eradication zone. But she dropped that idea after it met with little support.

"We should be allowing spotlights, machine guns, whatever it takes," said Sen. Bob Welch, R-Redgranite.

Hauge said later that the DNR had used baiting in the eradication zone only in March and April, when the agency was rushing to kill an initial 500 deer for testing after the disease was discovered in late February.

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