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CWD-free deer to go to landfill

October 4, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Bill Novak
The Dane County landfill will be the final burial ground for hundreds of deer carcasses from the chronic wasting disease eradication zone, but only for those white-tailed deer that test negative for the deadly disease.

Untested deer, and those testing positive for CWD, will not be allowed into the landfill.

The County Board's CWD task force initially didn't want any deer from the CWD zone brought to the landfill on Madison's far east side, but the Department of Natural Resources now has a plan to match deer head tissue samples with the appropriate carcass.

Carcasses given by hunters to the DNR for disposal will be quick-frozen and stored in refrigerated trailers in La Crosse until the matching head tissue sample is tested. When a sample is negative, the corresponding deer carcass will be taken out of cold storage and buried in the landfill. The board voted to oppose disposal of untested and CWD-positive deer in the landfill, but will accept those testing negative for CWD. The resolution also asks users of the landfill not to knowingly bring untested deer carcasses from the eradication zone or deer testing positive for CWD to the landfill for disposal, but there's virtually no way of enforcing the request.

"This resolution reaffirms our wish not to take untested or CWD-positive animals, but we will take them if they test negative," said Madison Supervisor Brett Hulsey, a member of the CWD task force.

With the massive deer hunt only weeks away, the DNR is gearing up its plans to dispose of thousands of deer carcasses that will be tested for CWD, a fatal brain disease caused by a mutant protein, or prion. Thirty-one white-tailed deer have already tested positive for CWD in the eradication zone, and CWD was also discovered on a private game farm in Portage County in September.

The DNR announced plans this week to have five processing centers located throughout Wisconsin taking tissue samples from deer heads collected at 151 dropoff sites. All deer heads used in the sampling will be incinerated and deer carcasses will be buried at landfills around the state. Carcasses testing positive for CWD will be incinerated.

While some officials, including Dane County Public Health Director Gary Johnson, have stated publicly they wouldn't eat venison from deer killed in the CWD eradication zone, the deer meat should be safe if it's from a deer that's tested negative.

"The public health officer said he wouldn't eat venison out of the CWD zone whether it's negative or not," said Mazomanie Supervisor Vern Wendt, chair of the CWD task force. "That statement probably scares a lot of people."

Madison Supervisor John Hendrick said the test for CWD isn't a food safety test.

"We have confidence in the CWD test," Hendrick said. "The test is scientifically valid, but it's not a food safety test. The World Health Organization says no one should eat deer infected with CWD; the testing will show us it's okay to put CWD-negative deer in the landfill. The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District also concluded that negative-tested deer would be okay to put into the landfill."

Todd Peterson, DNR bureau of wildlife section chief, said the DNR will also be able to tell hunters who keep and process their deer if their deer is CWD positive ornegative, but it might take months for the test results to come back since thousands of tests will be made on the deer killed not only in the CWD eradication zone but from deer taken in every county of the state.

Peterson also said deer taken in the CWD management zone, a larger area circling the CWD eradication zone, will be given top priority when testing starts, since the area around the eradication zone is the area the DNR is most concerned about.

"We already know it's in the eradication zone," Peterson said. "We want to test the deer in the management zone as quickly as possible to make sure the disease isn't spreading."

He said the level of priority will drop off the farther away the sampling gets from the CWD eradication zone in south central Wisconsin.

"Sampling the tissues from deer taken in Bayfield County (far northern Wisconsin) won't be a high priority," Peterson said. "We probably won't get those test results until March."

Tests for CWD will be done on 500 deer killed in each county. Providing samples in areas outside the CWD eradication zone is voluntary; all deer killed in the eradication zone will be tested.

Hulsey also introduced a resolution at Thursday night's County Board meeting urging the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to require double fencing on all game farms in the state to help prevent the spread of CWD.

One theory on how CWD is transmitted is through nose-to-nose contact between deer. If a CWD-infected deer is on a game farm and comes in contact with a wild deer outside the farm fence, the disease could spread into the wild herd.

"We need this common-sense measure to keep game farm animals from possibly spreading this tragic disease to wild deer," Hulsey said.

There are 14 game farms in Dane County (including two near Mount Horeb) and more than 950 in Wisconsin.

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