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Legislator urges steps to protect deer health

March 7, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Meg Jones
Now that a deadly disease has been found in Wisconsin's wild white-tailed deer population, a state legislator Wednesday called for closing the state borders to interstate movement of captive deer and elk.

Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud (R-Eastman) also is calling for a ban on feeding wild deer and elk.

"Let's shut the borders down until we find out what's causing this," Johnsrud said. Meanwhile, after Wisconsin's stunning announcement that chronic wasting disease, a relative of mad cow disease, was found in three deer shot last fall, Minnesota announced it plans to increase testing of wild deer shot by hunters this fall.

Minnesota is forming a contingency plan for handling an outbreak of the disease and has decided to ban the import of animals from regions with chronic wasting disease.

And in Michigan, officials Wednesday announced they are barring imports of deer and elk from Wisconsin. Michigan will also trace all deer and elk that have been imported from Wisconsin over the past three years.

Johnsrud said people who transport captive deer into or out of Wisconsin do not have to demonstrate the animals are healthy.

"These elk and deer are moving back and forth. It's a legitimate business, but we have to make sure it's a healthy business," he said.

A bill already before the Assembly would require those who ship deer or elk to provide a health certificate for each animal, Johnsrud said.

The legislator also called for a ban on feeding wild deer and elk, particularly animal byproducts such as bone meal. Mad cow disease was transmitted when cattle were fed byproducts of infected animals.

Johnsrud sent a letter to Department of Natural Resources Secretary Darrell Bazzell Wednesday outlining his plan. A DNR spokesman said the agency is doing a number of things to attempt to identify and contain chronic wasting disease among the wild deer herd.

"Certainly the things Representative Johnsrud mentions in his letter are on our table for discussion," said spokesman Bob Manwell.

Chronic wasting disease attacks the nervous system, causing chronic weight loss and eventually death. Although deer and elk have been diagnosed with it in several states, it is not known to be contagious to other animal species or humans.

Considering almost 700,000 deer hunters head into Wisconsin woods each fall and spend millions of tourism dollars, Johnsrud said he's worried chronic wasting disease will end up hurting the state's economy.

"What if 100,000 hunters say they're not going hunting? That will wreck things money-wise and (deer) management-wise," said Johnsrud.

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