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Deer kill revs up critics in hot zone

May 1, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI)  by Anita Weier and Samara Kalk
Linda Derrickson is on the side of the deer -- and of her own animals.

"A panic mentality is going on," said Derrickson, the town of Vermont treasurer who farms and operates a bed and breakfast inn with her husband.

"The DNR's knee-jerk reaction seems to be let's kill them.' The landowners weren't asked what we felt about it. We read it in the paper. I've been on the phone to the governor and the DNR." The state Department of Natural Resources has announced plans to eliminate 90 percent of the white-tailed deer herd in the western Dane County and eastern Iowa County area where 14 deer afflicted with chronic wasting disease were found. The town of Vermont was a hot spot for the fatal nervous system disease.

The DNR will explain what's been done and what's being considered to combat the spread of the disease during an informational meeting at 7 tonight at Mount Horeb High School.

Secretary Darrell Bazzell acknowledges that his agency's actions may seem quick and drastic, but adds, "Our best chance of getting ahead of this disease is to act swiftly and decisively.

Derrickson objects.

"Our ancestors did not kill if it was not necessary. We have decided to slaughter based on hysteria," she said. "It's wrong for human beings to play God."

"In Colorado, slaughter didn't eradicate it." She worries about fawns left starving and bewildered when their mothers are killed.

"I have sheep, cattle and chickens," she added. "If we slaughter all the deer, my animals will become coyote bait. Those coyotes have to feed on something."

She also fears that people or livestock might be hit if high-powered rifles are turned loose in the tree-shrouded hills and valleys of the town.

Derrickson, 54, maintains that if the agency had not in the past restricted killing does and limited the times when people could hunt to a week or 10 days, the deer population would not have grown out of control.

Derrickson also suggests that perhaps CWD is nature's way of controlling over-population. Or the deer may have had the disease for some time, until finally people noticed.

She wonders whether feeding blocks and pesticide might have brought on the disease, or if it did travel from elsewhere.

"There's not a baseline of research," Derrickson said. "Where is their data?"

*

'It won't work': Another resident who lives on the edge of the chronic wasting disease target area, says the DNR's massive shoot may actually spread the disease, not contain it.

Dr. John Barnes, a retired veterinarian, said the deer, when disrupted, will move from the target area. Other deer will move in and the habitat will remain contaminated.

"Deer are very aware of territorial openings when they are available," said Barnes, a self-described wildlife advocate, who retired from his practice, Westgate Pet Clinic, 10 years ago.

"The reality of this whole thing is that this disease is here and its going take a toll on animals," he said.

Barnes, who lives on a 200-acre wildlife sanctuary in rural Verona not far from the epicenter of the CWD discoveries in Mt. Horeb, said the widespread slaughter of deer in the target area is not an eradication program. "I think it is gross misuse of power, of force, of killing."

Tom Hauge, the DNR's director of wildlife management, estimates there are 13,000 white-tailed deer in the 415-square-mile area in western Dane and eastern Iowa counties, although a helicopter survey showed there may be many more.

Steps taken or being considered by the CWD Interagency Task Force include:

Testing 500-deer in the sample to get information on the spread of the disease.

Working with the CWD testing lab in Ames, Iowa, to increase the number of Wisconsin deer tested for CWD.

Discussions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on creating CWD testing labs in Wisconsin.

Requesting federal funding to finance a CWD control effort.

Holding informational meetings on CWD and making the latest CWD information available on the Internet.

Getting venison consumption information and human health data to the public.

Moving ahead to develop special hunting season proposals for the fall 2002 hunting season.

Placing tough new regulations on the importation of elk and deer to Wisconsin, and on testing elk and deer on farms in Wisconsin.

The DNR is also asking landowners in the CWD area to stop feeding deer and to remove any deer feed still on the land.

The measures being taken by the DNR are not going to eradicate the disease in Wisconsin, said Barnes, the retired veterinarian.

"People are being deceived. It does not have a chance," he said.

The CWD organism, really a foreign protein, is already established in the environment, he said, and is very stable to temperatures, both hot and cold.

Barnes predicts that a large area of the state is already contaminated by the organism and because of the protein's stability, it will be around for years.

"So unfortunately it is here to stay," he said. "It is not going away. We have to realize this."

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