June 15, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Lee BergquistBaiting and feeding deer should be banned statewide to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, staff members of the Department of Natural Resources recommended Friday.
The agency will ask the Natural Resources Board to approve an array of emergency rules -- some of them controversial -- aimed at sharply reducing the deer population in parts of 10 southwestern counties.
In addition to the feeding and baiting ban, the DNR is asking the board to require hunters in the fall season to shoot a doe first before taking a buck in the 10 counties.
The DNR and other state agencies are responding to an outbreak of the fatal deer disease, which is similar to the mad cow disease that afflicted Europe. Until it was discovered in Wisconsin, the disease had been found in the West but had not been discovered east of the Mississippi River. So far, the state has discovered 18 deer infected with the disease. The emergency rules would let landowners and sharpshooters kill an estimated 25,000 deer in a 361-square-mile region of Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties -- one of the most comprehensive efforts to kill deer ever in the United States.
Some of the killing has begun already in that zone, and, during a one-week period in each of the months of July, August and September, landowners will be permitted to shoot as many deer as they can.
In a broader 10-county region of southwestern Wisconsin, the DNR wants to cut the deer population by 50%.
"We want to encourage people to shoot deer, plain and simple," said Steve Miller, administrator of the DNR's Division of Land.
Surveys from members of the public attending DNR meetings this spring have shown strong support for the agency's strategy. Ninety-four percent of 3,097 people who filled out questionnaires said that the disease should be managed aggressively, according to DNR figures.
Open to criticism
But the DNR's initiatives have invited criticism.
"It's been a muddled mess from the beginning," said Greg "Kaz" Kazmierski, owner of Buck Rub Outfitters Ltd. in Waukesha and a founder of the Wisconsin Deer Hunters Coalition.
He called the current, one-week June hunt a "knee-jerk reaction," with heavy foliage making hunting difficult, many would-be hunters busy with other activities, and people using the woods in other ways, such as hiking.
"Holding that hunt at this time of the year is strictly a political thing," he said. "They were trying to make it look like something was being accomplished. It's not effective. To shoot these deer and leave potentially contaminated fawns out there is ridiculous."
Kazmierski and others have said the DNR should be working harder on finding a way to get a test developed that would let hunters know if the deer they shoot this fall are safe.
The feeding ban
The feeding ban would prohibit hunters from laying out food to attract deer before hunting. People also would be prohibited from setting out corn and other food so they can watch deer, or using food to help deer make it through heavy winters.
One leading theory about how the disease spreads is through face-to-face contact between deer when they congregate to eat. Artificial food caches are one such place where this happens.
The baiting and feeding ban could draw opposition from some board members, several of whom place food at sites where they hunt and have been doing it for years.
Natural Resources Chairman Trygve Solberg of Minocqua was unavailable on Friday, but he said a week ago he was unsure how he would vote on such a ban. A lifelong baiter, he said it was a popular technique among many hunters.
State Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud (R-Eastman), chairman of the state Assembly's Natural Resources Committee, has authored legislation to ban most deer baiting. He applauded the DNR's proposed baiting and feeding ban.
He said a ban would be effective because it would target mass feedings.
"I was concerned that the DNR would not step up to the plate either," Johnsrud said. "They are in the throes of in-house politics like crazy. There are legislators who have threatened them with financial punishment. They did a brave thing here."
Feeding birds and small animals would not be stopped, as long as the feed could not be reached by deer. That means people could not spread feed on the ground during the winter.
"That's going to be very hard," said Dan Panetti, who owns Wild Birds Unlimited in Mequon. "Unless you put everything on pulleys, it's really going to be difficult, because a deer, if it stands on its hind legs, can reach eight feet without much difficulty. And that puts feeders at an impractical height for a lot of people to deal with.
"It's one thing to deter deliberate feeding of deer. It's another thing to try to deter what deer will feed on."
Does before bucks
One new recommendation that will not please a lot of hunters is a permit system in the 10 counties that will require hunters to shoot a doe before they can shoot a buck in the fall hunting season. Many deer hunters are interested in shooting only male deer, especially bucks with big racks.
This "earn-a-buck" permit was used in 1996 to drive down the deer population. It was controversial then and remains so today.
At the public meetings this spring, 55% of those queried said they supported the earn-a-buck plan. The proposal drew the least support among several ideas floated to kill more deer.
"I don't like it. I don't think that most hunters will like it," said Dave Ladd of Dodgeville, chairman of the Big Game Committee of the Conservation Congress. "But I think it will help them accomplish what needs to be done."
Kazmierski of the Deer Hunters Coalition said he did not believe the earn-a-buck plan would have much impact.
But the DNR's Miller said the agency is concerned that too many hunters would get their buck and go home.
"What we need is for hunters to pitch in," Miller said. "They really have to employ a strong conservation philosophy on this. This is not for fun. We have to get this disease under control." The Natural Resources Board will hold its next monthly meeting in Racine on June 25 and 26, and is expected to vote on the recommendations during the first day of the meeting.
Jessica Hansen of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
-- The state Natural Resources Board will vote on the proposed emergency hunting rules on June 25.
-- The rules approved by the board will take effect this fall.
PROPOSED HUNTING RULES
The Department of Natural Resources is proposing new deer hunting regulations for this fall to help control the spread of chronic wasting disease. Some regulations will apply to a 361-square-mile "intensive harvest zone" around the area where infected deer have been found. Other rules will apply to a 10-county "management zone."
For the intensive harvest zone
-- Deer populations reduced to zero. -- A gun season of Oct. 24 to Jan. 31. -- An archery season of Sept. 14 to Jan. 31. -- No separate muzzleloader season. -- Deer removal permits to landowners, who could authorize others to hunt on their land with no limit on the number of deer that could be killed. -- DNR sharpshooters can kill deer, use helicopters for deer drives and shoot deer from vehicles. -- Landowners can shoot deer from tractors.
For 10-county management zone:
-- Deer populations reduced to 10 deer per square mile. -- Gun hunting Oct. 24 to 27; Nov. 23 to Dec. 15; and Dec. 21 to Jan. 3. -- An archery season running Sept. 14 to Jan. 3. -- No separate muzzleloader season.
Read more about the DNR's proposed rules at www.dnr.state.wi.us