Oh Deer, What a Debacle

November 30, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Joel Mcnally

We've all read endlessly about the heart-rending tragedy of Wisconsin deer hunters who face the possibility of their sport being devastated by chronic wasting disease.

Well, being wiped out by a deadly brain disease is no picnic in the park for deer, either.

It's an annual tradition for this column to send the state's hundreds of thousands of heavily armed men, women and children into the woods with a few words to help them understand the deer's point of view.

From the enthusiastic feedback from deer hunters, many of them clearly appreciate the opportunity to attain a deeper, spiritual communion with the wonders of our natural world while they are getting a really good bead on them. This year, as we keep hearing, is a special hunt. This year, for the first time, many hunters are wondering if there might be an even greater peril in the woods than some jumpy yahoo with an itchy trigger finger and more ammo than brains.

Could this be the year of poetic justice when the tables are turned and the hunters are in danger from the deer?

It doesn't help in these uncertain times that nobody really believes a word from the state Department of Natural Resources. The DNR has dropped almost all pretense of concern for either wildlife or the hunters. The department's sole focus has been to push reluctant hunters to overcome their fears and get out there and blow away lots of deer.

The DNR has the oldest motive in the book -- financial gain. If Wisconsin hunters, for good reason, buy a lot fewer hunting licenses this year, there will be a gaping financial hole in the old department budget.

Oh, but the DNR's primary concerns are always wildlife management and the safety of hunters. Well, oh yeah? Let's examine that.

If the DNR were really concerned about reducing the size of the state's deer herd, chronic wasting disease would be a gift from the gods.

Wisconsin's deer might be able to elude a mob of hung-over weekend warriors crashing through the woods firing in all directions, but they can't hide from a deadly, contagious disease.

There's always been something fishy about the DNR's alarm over deer dying of natural causes. Chronic wasting disease isn't pretty, but it's just one of a number of disasters that can befall animals in the wild. Does the DNR worry about deer catching pneumonia from running around in the cold? Is it going to start trimming low-hanging branches so deer don't hit their heads?

* W e might really think the DNR had the welfare of deer at heart if it didn't talk about the need to wipe out chronic wasting disease so there will be plenty of big, strong, healthy deer every fall for hunters to slaughter for sport. To prevent illness, the DNR wants to annihilate every living deer in a three-county area, whether the deer feel woozy or not.

They say when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If all the DNR thinks about is killing deer, that becomes the solution to every problem, including dying deer.

But if the DNR doesn't really care about deer except as a cash crop to fund its budget, surely it must care about the possible spread of chronic wasting disease to human beings or the economic devastation of the state if the disease spread to, say, dairy cattle.

Well, you couldn't tell it from the actions of the DNR. It's almost as if DNR officials see those niggling little problems as the responsibility of some other department.

First, the DNR allowed unregulated game farms to transport deer into the state from Western states where chronic wasting disease has been rampant for years. Then, when -- surprise! -- chronic wasting disease appeared here, the department went out of its way to pooh-pooh concerns about public health.

The DNR keeps issuing carefully worded statements about how there has been no proven case of chronic wasting disease spreading to humans. At the same time, it strongly suggests using 10-foot poles to butcher your deer.

If public health and safety were the primary concerns, wouldn't any responsible state department err on the side of caution?

It certainly wouldn't make fun of the understandable anxiety of deer hunters who are worried about endangering their families with diseased venison.

* W ell, the DNR would. It spent $10,000 on radio commercials ridiculing hunters who "got your undies in a bundle wit' cryin', whinin' disease."

It's a song parody using the intentionally ignorant dialect made popular by an Upper Peninsula band called Da Yoopers. Sample lyrics: "Get out an' hunt to make things badder, so we can keep dose deer from bein' too close togadder."

Many deer hunters speak perfectly good English. They may not be as dumb as the DNR seems to think they are.

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