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U.S. aid sought in deer disease;
Rising harvest of carcasses being tested

March 19, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Meg Jones
Hunters have killed almost one-quarter of the white-tailed deer the state plans to test for chronic wasting disease, authorities said Monday.

Also on Monday, Gov. Scott McCallum requested more than $14.7 million in federal funding for the next five years to pay for chronic wasting disease testing and monitoring. And he said the disease was likely to remain an issue here "for years to come."

With DNR employees working two shifts every day to handle the testing project, the governor sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman requesting federal money to pay for monitoring and controlling the disease in Wisconsin. McCallum requested $2,391,817 for salaries, supplies and services for this year and $3,089,140 for each of the following four years for a total of $14,748,377.

While the initial response of state agencies "has been emergency-based, we anticipate that this problem will be with us for a long time," McCallum wrote.

"CWD is not, as experience in the Western states has shown us, a short-term problem. We expect to be dealing with CWD and the collateral issues for years to come."

With more than 500 permits handed out by the Department of Natural Resources starting late last week, landowners have eagerly agreed to help with the task of shooting 500 wild deer within a 10-mile radius of where three diseased deer were killed in November. The state found out about the disease last month.

By noon Monday, the DNR had handed out 546 permits. Since the original permits were good for only three days, officials were reissuing permits and giving people more time to hunt.

Authorities had expected more deer to be shot by now, said Alan Crossley, a DNR wildlife biologist based in Fitchburg.

"One of the things we're realizing is it's a little more challenging to shoot a deer this time of year without the benefit of having lots of other hunters out in the woods moving the deer. It's not like opening weekend" of the gun-deer season in November, said Crossley.

Reissued permits will be good through noon of the following Monday, since the DNR is anticipating more people will be able to hunt on weekends.

"We were all hoping we'd have more by now, but when you stop and think about it, being one-fourth of the way there after only two to three days, that's pretty good," Crossley said.

Authorities are getting brain tissue samples from each deer to send to a lab in Ames, Iowa, for testing of the deadly disease, which is similar to mad cow disease. As of Monday, 110 heads had been processed.

The tissue samples will be sent in batches, with the first group to be shipped out this week, said Julie Langenberg, a DNR veterinarian who is helping organize the deer sampling. She said the last of the samples will be sent out within a week of the end of the hunt.

Authorities are asking for one and sometimes up to three deer from each 640-acre section in the 416-square-mile area.

Some hunters have reported seeing sick deer -- ones that were skinny or were acting strangely. Additional tissue is being collected from those deer; testing will be expedited on them.

2 sick deer in study area

"I can't give you exact numbers because we've received a few identified sick deer that were shot slightly outside our circle," said Langenberg. "There are at least two animals from within the circle that fit the profile of CWD. That doesn't mean we have a high suspicion that it's CWD because there are other diseases that fit the profile."

Authorities are hoping to offer hunters the opportunity this fall to test their deer for chronic wasting disease, which costs $23-$30 per test, said Sarah Shapiro-Hurley, a DNR veterinarian. It's unknown who would pay, but Shapiro-Hurley said the DNR is hoping the state would pick up the cost.

Wisconsin has been testing for chronic wasting disease, along with other diseases, since 1999 in deer harvested during opening weekend of the gun-deer season.

"It wasn't because we thought it was out there. It was because we wanted a good baseline of our deer," Shapiro-Hurley said last week. It was "so we could say to our hunters -- it's not here."

Former DNR Secretary George Meyer, who was head of the agency when testing for chronic wasting disease began, was shocked to learn of the positive tests.

After it was found in elk and deer in western states, he said, "We always knew there was a potential for it. We were trying to get legislation passed" that would restrict imports of captive elk and deer and require testing of incoming animals, Meyer said Monday. "We always knew in the back of our mind this could happen. When the news came, it hit us hard because we knew how serious this is to the deer herd in Wisconsin."

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