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3rd game farm quarantined

September 21, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Lee Bergquist 
lbergquist@journalsentinel.com
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection quarantined a third game farm Friday -- this one in Marathon County -- after test results this week showed a deer on a shooting preserve in adjacent Portage County tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

Four apparently unhealthy deer on the Marathon County farm were killed and are being tested for the fatal brain disease, State Veterinarian Clarence Siroky said.

The Marathon County farm was sealed off because records show it received deer from the Portage County farm, where a buck tested positive this week for the disease after it was shot Sept. 4.

The Agriculture Department also has quarantined a farm in Walworth County after records showed that deer had been sold to the Portage County farm. Friday's quarantine of a third farm raises the possibility that other captive deer in Wisconsin could have the disease. Wisconsin has about 950 private deer and elk farms.

Until this week, 31 wild deer killed in a 389-square-mile region of southwestern Wisconsin had tested positive for the disease, suggesting about 3% of the herd was infected.

The discovery of at least one case on a game farm 100 miles away raises questions about how widespread chronic wasting disease really is in Wisconsin, whether the state will be forced to change its strategy and how hunters will respond as they make plans for the fall hunt.

Siroky said he had no idea if the disease will show up elsewhere. The agency is tracing records that game farms must file by law to learn how far the disease could have traveled.

Even though the Portage County deer was captive, Siroky said the agency's investigation would not be restricted solely to game farms because some deer from farms have come from the wild.

Until recently, the state Department of Natural Resources routinely turned over injured deer to game farms, he said. Also, some game farms were started when farmers fenced off land containing wild deer and paid the DNR for the deer.

A factor that could complicate the investigation is poor record keeping. After the disease was discovered this year in the wild population, the DNR began investigating deer farms and found instances of inadequate and sometimes non-existent records. Its investigation is continuing.

Until now, the DNR has operated under the belief that chronic wasting disease was limited in the wild to the area of its original discovery Feb. 28, near Mount Horeb in Dane County. However, experts at the National Wildlife Disease Center, a federal research laboratory based in Madison, said the DNR had not conducted enough tests in previous years to be sure.

The discovery of the disease prompted the DNR to ask hunters this fall to use liberalized bag limits and kill the entire deer population in the zone -- an estimated 25,000 deer.

But an anti-hunt leader said the discovery of the disease on a game farm shows the DNR is acting prematurely.

"They have absolutely no idea where this disease exists," said Mark Peck, whose group has signed up landowners representing 70,000 acres that will not allow deer to be killed on their land this fall.

"They are going to have this massive slaughter, 98 percent of the deer are going to be healthy, and then they are going to realize this is all over the state."

But DNR spokesman Bob Manwell said the agency will go ahead with plans for killing deer in a 389-square-mile zone in Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties and cutting the deer population in half across 10 surrounding counties.

The DNR also plans to test about 500 deer in every county for any other signs of the disease, but quicker testing in Portage County is likely, Manwell said.

Chronic wasting disease is caused by an abnormal protein that invades the brain and other organs and eventually kills the deer. It is related to mad cow disease, a prion disorder in cattle that has been linked to the deaths of more than 130 beef eaters in Europe.

State Sen. Kevin Shibilski (D-Stevens Point) suggested immediate statewide testing of all animals that die on game farms.

"I think there's a strong possibility that this disease came into Wisconsin in the back of someone's truck," he said.

But the discovery of the diseased deer shows that new regulations requiring enhanced testing on game farms is working, said Gary Goyke, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmers Association.

More than 100 deer and elk from Wisconsin game farms have been tested so far, Siroky said.

For six years, Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud (R-Town of Eastman) sought a ban on so-called "canned" hunts, in which he says big money buys an easy target and a trophy animal.

The bill was defeated several times before it was passed earlier this year. The law specifically prohibits buying or selling an opportunity to hunt any captive wild animal in an enclosure.

"I wonder if six years ago if we had the law in place would we be where we're at right now with CWD?" Johnsrud said. "Was it trucked in? Most likely.

"I'm just exasperated that it's so late now. And what do we do? I don't know.

"The guessers are guessing and the knowers don't."

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