Costs of fighting battle could rise quickly

October 6, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Bob Riepenhoff
Wisconsin's battle against chronic wasting disease in whitetail deer could cost $12.2 million in this budget year and may cost significantly more if the disease spreads, Natural Resources Secretary Darrell Bazzell told the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee last week.

"The costs for managing CWD are escalating rapidly and are difficult to estimate at this time," Bazzell told the committee.

He said the estimate was based on the assumption that the fatal brain disease will remain confined to the existing 389-square-mile eradication zone near Mount Horeb.

Sen. Kevin Shibilski (D-Stevens Point) criticized the DNR's response to the disease outbreak because it does not include providing a test that would allow hunters to test the safety of their venison. "They've been scaring us about CWD, and now they want us to proceed with the hunt this year as if nothing happened," Shibilski said. "You can't play Chicken Little for nine months and then just make it go away in time to soothe fears of hunters."

In a related matter, former DNR Secretary George Meyer said last week that he was worried that Wisconsin's booming deer population may increase even higher if fewer people hunt deer this fall because of concerns about chronic wasting disease.

Deer license sales are down 22% so far this year, according to the DNR.

Meyer said he agreed with the DNR's plan to try to eliminate 25,000 deer in the eradication zone in parts of Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties, but predicted that hunters will stay away from the zone this fall.

WHO advisory

Officials say there is no scientific evidence that CWD can transmit to humans, but the World Health Organization advises people not to eat any part of a deer suspected of having the disease; or the brain, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes or spinal cord of any deer.

Many believe that adequate testing of individual deer would alleviate many hunters' concerns.

The DNR plans to test 500 deer per county at a new state-operated lab in Madison. But the state lab will not have the capacity to meet the demand for tests from individual hunters, DNR officials have said.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Support Services of Hayward announced last week that Gander Mountain will distribute 20,000 test kits for chronic wasting disease at its stores across the state. Another 5,000 to 10,000 will be sold at small sporting goods stores, said William "Butch" Johnson, of the company.

The kits, which will cost $52.95, are expected to go on sale between Oct. 15 and 20, according to a Gander Mountain employee.

However, Tom Hauge, the DNR's director of wildlife management, has said that questions about the accuracy of the private firm's tests and the reliability of tissue samples need to be answered.

In a related matter, some hunters and wildlife watchers are ignoring the state's new ban on baiting and feeding deer, prompting conservation wardens to begin issuing citations.

The Natural Resources Board enacted the baiting and feeding ban to limit the instances of deer-to-deer contact that scientists have linked to the spread of chronic wasting disease. The regulations went into effect July 3.

"CWD experts view this restriction as critical to controlling this fatal, contagious disease of deer," said Tom Harelson, chief DNR warden. "Any practice that concentrates deer -- including baiting and feeding -- is likely to increase the spread of CWD."

Since the rule went into effect, wardens across the state have been following up on complaints of illegal baiting and feeding.

Big fine

In the Wausau area, a warden wrote citations totaling about $3,500 to one hunter for several violations after he found him hunting over one of four bait piles that the hunter prepared.

In the Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin, wardens have discovered numerous 5-gallon sized piles of feed under tree stands.

Near Black River Falls, wardens have written a handful of citations to people who hunted over bait piles.

"Anyone who breaks the baiting and feeding regulation should expect to be cited," Harelson said.

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