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State to burn carcasses in poynette; deer hunters elsewhere may be on their own

September 5, 2002 The Capital Times by Anita Weier
The state Department of Natural Resources has decided to continue to use a Poynette crematorium to dispose of deer carcasses from the chronic wasting disease eradication zone this fall.

But no decision has been made on what to do with the carcasses of deer from the larger management zone in southern Wisconsin or the deer killed throughout the state if hunters do not want to keep them.

"I think the vast majority of the deer in the management zone will be kept by hunters for their own use," said Tom Hauge, the DNR's wildlife director who is heading the agency's fight against the fatal nervous system disease in white-tailed deer.

"We are taking this a step at a time," Hauge said. "We are still trying to decide the best thing to do if someone does not want to keep a deer. We do not think CWD is widespread in the state of Wisconsin. We think they are just as good as they were a year ago when we did not have CWD." However, DNR spokesman Greg Matthews said the agency has a responsibility to "facilitate" disposal in the 14-county management zone that stretches south to the Illinois border, where the hope is to cut the deer herd in half.

"No decision has been made on the rest of the state," where the DNR plans to test about 500 deer per county to determine whether the disease has spread, Matthews said.

At this point, hunters in the rest of the state would be on their own regarding carcass disposal, according to Hauge.

The incineration option was chosen for the eradication zone in Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties because landfills in this area would not accept the carcasses.

Landfilling would have been a much cheaper option. The costs for the landfilling that the DNR did in March and April, before landfill operators objected because of fear of leaching of the prion proteins that cause the disease, were $35 to $40 per ton. The contract with Midwest Crematorium Services costs 85 cents per pound.

"For the 959 deer shot during the first three shooting periods, it has cost $88,315," Matthews said. "We don't know how many will be shot this fall in the eradication zone. Bids are going out for transportation and storage of these animals. The crematory can handle about 200 deer per week, but he is bringing another unit on line."

Estimates are that the cost would be more than $2 million if the DNR and hunters succeed in killing all 25,000 deer in the 389-square-mile eradication zone, where a total of 31 deer have been found to have the disease.

The DNR had requested bids for disposal by various means, including incineration, chemical digestion, landfilling and rendering, but no bids fit current needs. The contract with the crematorium was extended because a decision had to be made, with the bow hunting season starting Sept. 14 and the lengthy gun season in the eradication zone starting Oct. 24.

"For the short term we extended the contract," Matthews said. "We are still looking at how we could make one of the other methods work."

*

Volunteers sought: Another problem facing the DNR is finding enough people to process the deer that will be tested.

About 500 people from within the DNR have volunteered to help -- on a paid basis -- and other state agencies as well as sports and conservation groups are being contacted to obtain more help, Hauge said.

"We will have somewhere between 150 and 200 collection sites," he said. "One task would be to have somebody record information on a data form. Then we will cut the head off and attach a tracking number, bag it and put it in storage. At least once a day heads will be trucked to a regional processing center, where a data record would be put into a computer as to hunter location and other specifics about the deer, and folks will collect the brain stem and lymphoid tissue.

"We would need perhaps four people per collection site and about 30 at each of five regional processing centers. We probably need close to 1,000 people."

All participants will have basic safety training, with those at the processing centers requiring more expertise. It is hoped that veterinarians will volunteer.

Hauge said that the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory in Madison is on track to be able to perform much of the testing, and that nothing has changed in regard to the decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to use private labs.

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