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Deer estimate up to 25,000 in killing zone

June 11, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Bill Novak
Hunters might be gunning for as many as 25,000 deer instead of 15,000 this year, as the state tries to wipe out chronic wasting disease in the eradication zone centered in western Dane County.

The new estimate was disclosed at the first meeting of the Dane County Board's CWD Task Force Monday night.

Steve Miller, Department of Natural Resources division administrator of land, told the task force that does have dropped their fawns already this spring, so the deer population in the 361-square-mile zone could now be up to 25,000, two-thirds greater than the original estimate of 15,000.

The higher figure was also noted in a letter sent Friday by DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell to sanitary landfill operators and sewage treatment operators. Bazzell issued the letter and a DNR briefing paper to reassure operators there is practically no risk of CWD-laced leachate getting into ground water or sewage systems if dead deer carcasses are allowed into landfills.

The letter comes on the heels of a decision by Waste Management, the solid waste company contracted by the DNR for its waste removal, to refuse putting deer carcasses from the eradication zone into its private landfill.

The DNR originally thought Dane County would accept deer carcasses taken in the planned massive kill this year, but the county has balked over concerns the carcasses could produce a liquid containing the prions that cause CWD.

Joe Brusca, air and waste regional leader for the DNR's south central region, told the task force a pet crematorium has been contracted to incinerate deer carcasses that have been positively tested for CWD, but it couldn't handle all of the thousands of deer to be killed in the zone.

"We'd like to keep the deer as close to home as possible," Brusca said. "Right now, the two options we have are landfills and rendering plants. The plants have indicated they are not willing to take deer from the eradication zone."

The task force didn't rule out taking deer carcasses that test negative for CWD, but committee members want the DNR to indemnify the county, meaning if there are any problems years down the road because of the deer carcasses, the state would pay for the cleanup.

Miller said the DNR isn't in a position to make such a guarantee.

"This will be a difficult decision for Dane County to make," Topf Wells, County Executive Kathleen Falk's chief of staff, told the task force. "One thing the DNR can do is put it in writing. If 15,000 deer go into our landfill, the state will assume responsibility."

Gerald Mandli, Dane County landfill manager, said there's enough space in the landfill to handle hundreds of tons of carcasses, and a special cell could be established in the landfill to take in the carcasses so the operators know where they are.

But Jon Schellpfeffer, chief engineer for the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, told the task force the district would be leery taking in leachate from the landfill's pipes if there was any chance at all it contained prions.

Schellpfeffer said the two byproducts from the treatment plant are clean water and a condensed biologic solid that's sold to farmers to recycle as fertilizer on their fields.

"The risks are probably low, but is there anything that could jeopardize our re-use program?," Schellpfeffer said. "There's an awful lot of unanswered questions at this point."

Miller said time is short for any decisions to be made.

"Bow hunting season starts Sept. 14," Miller said. "The gun season is from late October through November, and that's when the biggest number of animals will be shot. It would be nice if we had everything in place by August 1, and certainly no later than Sept. 14."

One of the biggest mistakes, Miller said, is if nothing is done.

"That would be monumental," he said. "If we did that, there would be no deer herd in Wisconsin."

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