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All deer in infected area targeted;
DNR says it can't guarantee venison safety

May 5, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Bob Riepenhoff
The Department of Natural Resources has stepped up its strategy for controlling the outbreak of chronic wasting disease in wild deer to include an attempt to kill every whitetail deer in the area where the disease was discovered.

DNR veterinarian Julie Langenberg announced the plan Wednesday at a public meeting on the disease at Mount Horeb, saying the goal for the core infection area was "reducing the population of deer as close to zero as we can."

Under the plan, an estimated 14,000 to 15,000 deer would be killed in a 287-square-mile area near Mount Horeb, where 14 deer have tested positive for the fatal brain disease.

On Monday, the DNR will begin distributing permits to landowners in the area, which will allow them -- or the hunters they allow on their property -- to begin shooting deer. In a related matter, DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell said last Monday that the state could not guarantee that it is safe to eat venison because of the disease.

"Clearly, hunters will have to make some tough choices this fall," Bazzell told the Associated Press. "We cannot guarantee 100% a clean bill of health."

Safety of venison is a key issue because it will likely impact the number of deer hunters who will participate in the hunt this year.

Many hunters would be willing to pay to have their deer tested for the disease, but there is currently no test facility in Wisconsin. Although there are plans to start testing here, at this point, it seems unlikely that capacity will meet demand by fall.

"The idea of killing these animals and putting them in a Dumpster is very devastating," Scott Craven, professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin, said in an interview. "It goes against everything we've tried to instill in youngsters and everyone else."

Hunters face dilemma

Meanwhile, some hunters are worried about venison from last fall.

The dilemma facing hunters, Craven said, is: "They have to make their own decision on the basis of the fact that nobody knows."

Whether humans can get the disease from eating infected venison is unknown.

Even so, the DNR recommends that no part of any deer believed to be infected with the disease be consumed [What about the evidence that CWD prions can igrow in muscle (meat)--BSE coordinator], and that people avoid eating the brain, eyes, spinal cord, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of any deer.

The agency also recommends that hunters wear gloves when field dressing deer; butcher their own deer by using a knife to remove meat from the bones; or request that their deer be processed individually by a commercial processor.

Craven believes the risk of human infection from venison is "extremely low."

"The risk is tiny compared to the possibility of catching a bullet, falling out of a tree stand, driving to where you're going to hunt or other things that we ignore," said Craven, who is a deer hunter.

Still, some are discarding their venison.

"Because this is such a creepy disease that we don't know a lot about, it's causing a lot of concern," Craven said.

Craven hunts in two different deer camps, one in Northern Wisconsin and another in Iowa County, just six miles from the center of the outbreak. He butchers his own venison and his freezer now holds meat from five deer, two from up north and three from the infected area.

What's his plan?

"I'm eating the venison and sausage that came from the deer I shot outside the infected area," he said.

As for the deer from inside the infected area, he said: "I haven't disposed of them. I'm hoping for some new revelation or scientific breakthrough."

Normal hunt predicted

Craven believes that, as the DNR steps up testing for the disease around the state, "there will be a comfort level established for hunters."

In addition, he said: "There will be guidelines coming out for hunters, prior to the season, on the best way to handle all this (venison). Processors can adopt the same safe procedures."

Unless the disease is found elsewhere, Craven predicts a normal deer hunt across much of the state. "In the vast majority of the state this fall, it's going to be business as usual," he said.

But, he added: "If they turn up the disease outside the eradication zone, then all bets are off. The game is going to change."

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