Wisconsin Assembly, Senate pass bills on captive wildlife

March 8, 2002 Associated Press by Sarah Wyatt
The state would revamp the way it regulates and licenses captive wildlife, requiring health certificates for any deer, elk or other wild animals brought into the state, under a bill approved early Friday by the state Legislature and sent to the governor.

The action came less than a week after officials announced that the fatal ailment called chronic wasting disease has been found in Wisconsin's wild deer population for the first time, prompting calls for tighter controls on the movement of wildlife such as deer kept on game farms.

The bill was approved by the Senate 24-8 and passed by the Assembly 99-0 shortly thereafter. The bill now heads to Gov. Scott McCallum for his approval. The bill would give the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection the ability to quarantine and test diseased animals, prohibit their movement and condemn those animals to slaughter.

It also would allow both the Department of Natural Resources and the agriculture department to document and track the movement of captive animals through health certificates to determine the role of game farm animals in the spread of disease.

"This is a major step forward for the protection of wild animals in this state," said Sen. Jim Baumgart, D-Sheboygan, chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources Committee

The bill would allow the DNR to pass rules to ensure that captive wild animals receive humane treatment and adequate housing, care and food, and are held in sanitary conditions.

Another provision would let owners of captive deer or elk have hunts for them in a confined environment, which they have not been able to do since 1995, when deer and elk owners began to be regulated by the agriculture department.

The bill would create a new license to keep wild animals as pets, and it would eliminate the need for a license if someone wanted to keep a game bird as a pet or for breeding purposes. Other captive wildlife licenses would remain the same.

Opponents said the measure would give the DNR the ability to criminalize ownership of animals like frogs and grass snakes.

"I want you to go home, clean out your garage and make sure there aren't any critters hanging out in there! We don't want you to go to jail inadvertently," said Sen. Kevin Shibilski, D-Stevens Point.

He said the bill should be limited to protect the state's wildlife from chronic wasting disease and other illnesses that can kill livestock and wild animals.

The disease was found in three deer killed during the hunting season in November. All three were bucks killed in south central Wisconsin. It was the first time the disease was found in deer east of the Mississippi River.

Recognized in 1967, chronic wasting disease causes animals to grow thin and die. It comes from the same family as mad cow disease but is not known to be transmissible to people [There is evidence that CWD prions can infect human brain tissue--BSE coordinator].

Shibilski's amendment, which was rejected by the Senate, would have given the agriculture department additional funding to regulate wild animals that are brought into the state. His measure was approved by the Joint Finance Committee and included in Gov. Scott McCallum's proposed budget changes sent to the Legislature.

The bill also would:

-Create a new DNR inspection certificate for fences holding white-tailed deer.

-Reduce fees for people who have multiple licenses.

-Allow residents to keep up to five of each species of native snakes and frogs without a license.

-Allow DNR wardens to enter and inspect land, vehicles and buildings for enforcement of the laws regulating captive wild animals; wardens have those authorities under current law.

-Exempt common species like ground squirrels, chipmunks and possums from license requirements.

The bills are AB 614 and SB 307.

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