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Testing to be required for chronic wasting disease

March 9, 2002 Associated Press
Privately owned elk and deer involved in interstate commerce would have to be tested for chronic wasting disease under federal rules expected to be adopted this summer, officials said Saturday.

The comments came at the annual convention of the Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmers Association.

A week earlier, state officials announced that chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain ailment of deer and elk, was found in Wisconsin deer for the first time.

A random testing program of the state Department of Natural Resources found the disease in three bucks shot by hunters in the wild in the Mineral Point area of southern Wisconsin last November. The findings led the DNR to quarantine a private deer and elk herd located within a 10-mile radius of where the infected deer were killed.

A second private herd just outside that radius was placed under surveillance, according to veterinarian Glen Zebarth of Alexandria, Minn., a featured speaker at the conference Saturday.

Private-herd monitoring is considered crucial in preventing the spread of the disease among commercial deer and elk operations, where buying and selling animals is common.

New rules aimed at eradicating chronic wasting disease are due to be adopted this summer and would require the federal government to reimburse farmers if the disease is found in their animals and their herds have to be destroyed.

Zebarth said the reimbursement provision will be the key to getting deer and elk farmers to cooperate.

He said mandatory herd monitoring has been established in every state where the disease has been detected. In addition to Wisconsin, the disease has been found in Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Chronic wasting disease causes gradual health deterioration and eventual death of the infected animal. It is known to affect only deer and elk and is not considered a threat to livestock or humans.

DNR officials have said that captive elk and deer herds have been a factor in the spread of the disease in other states.

But Jim Pankow of Plymouth, vice president of the state association, said the disease has a history of appearing in wild animals. He noted that the only verified cases in Wisconsin have been in wild deer.

Pankow, who raises about 90 elk and 50 buffalo on 145 acres in Sheboygan County, said there are about 225 licensed elk, deer and fallow deer farms in Wisconsin.

He said his association is committed to eliminating chronic wasting disease but prefers voluntary compliance to state herd-testing standards.

Forty-seven of the association's 150 members currently have volunteered to comply with monitoring standards, Pankow said.

"We don't want a knee-jerk reaction" to last week's announcement, Pankow said, adding that the association is working with the DNR and state agriculture officials to formulate a position on testing.

DNR officials said Friday that about 500 deer will be killed in the area where three bucks were found to have the fatal brain ailment. The DNR wants a sample of the deer in the area for use in analyzing the scope of the problem.

Tom Hauge, director of wildlife management for the DNR, said the decision to kill 500 deer is the first in a long line of choices and challenges the DNR expects to face in dealing with chronic wasting disease, which attacks the brains of infected deer and elk. There is no evidence that the disease can infect humans.

"It's not like you and I going into the doctor's office for a throat culture for strep throat," Hauge said. "Animals have to be killed and very likely will have brain tissue taken for lab analysis. Logistically, we have to make sure our wildlife health biologists and veterinarians are ready to have animals start coming in."

Officials announced a week ago that the disease had been found in Wisconsin deer for the first time. It also was the first time the disease has been confirmed in deer or elk east of t he Mississippi River.

Hauge said the DNR is hurrying to prepare analysts and labs and also to inform area residents about the deer-killing plan. An informational meeting is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. March 20 at Mount Horeb High School.

On the Net:

Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmers Assn: http://www.wcdefa.org/

Wisconsin DNR: http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/

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