Where is the debate over methods to curb chronic wasting disease?

June 15, 2002 Wisconsin State Journal by Julie Peterson
"Fifteen residents diagnosed with AIDS; entire town nuked."

Imagine handling AIDS the same way we are handling chronic wasting disease: Some of the population has the virus, so let's wipe out whole neighborhoods to prevent its spread.

The lack of scientific information backing decisions regarding CWD to this point is startling. One day a handful of deer in the population is reportedly infected; the next day the whole herd has a death sentence. Perhaps we should conduct more research on the CWD issues before acting so quickly. If killing all 15,000 deer in the eradication zone is the only solution, I question the feasibility of this task. Deer don't stand still and smile into the scope of a rifle. They won't stay in or out of the zone just because the DNR has defined it on a map.

So far, the sharpshooters are killing at a rate that will require four or five years to meet the goal. This assumes no deer have the audacity to reproduce or disrespect the confines of the eradication zone.

The dead deer are being put in the Dane County Landfill. This landfill is not a hole in the land that they are filling. It is a mountain of trash. The trucks building it look like toys on top. Take a drive by the mountain; hopefully it will remind you to recycle.

Maybe, the odor from the mountain will reach your nose hairs. Warm, sweet, and almost suffocating, the fragrance is not unlike that of a half-eaten cheeseburger lost under the car seat. This smelly landfill can't hold an estimated 2 million pounds of meat without stinking out nearby landowners.

The possibility of CWD prions leeching out of the landfill has not been ruled out. They know very little about the survivability of the prion outside the host. Reportedly, the prion infected other species in laboratory tests and survived for three years in an empty concrete cell where diseased animals were once held.

There is speculation that CWD could evolve into variants like mad cow disease did, subsequently infecting people who handle or consume deer. The landfill has flocks of birds -- turkey vultures, hawks, crows, and sea gulls -- flying over. They are feasting on something up there, probably alongside some really big rats. I suggest we shoot these animals too, just in case they could transport prions.

If the CWD prion cannot survive incineration, then we should direct funds toward that method. Currently, no local facility is large enough to cremate 15,000 animals. We questioned our ability to build a convention center in the lake; let's not debate the incinerator plans for 100 years. Otherwise, that mountain of trash will grow into a reeking prion-retirement skyscraper.

The lack of protests surrounding all this is astounding. Perhaps this issue isn't close enough to home for the protesters to come out of their cracks in the concrete jungle. After all, no deer hang out at the Memorial Union, no sharpshooters are flying over State Street, and nobody is dumping carcasses on the Capitol lawn during the Farmer's Market.

This isn't just an issue for deer hunters. This will affect landowners, tourists, business owners, and consumers. The picturesque image of red barns and fields of grain will go awry when sharpshooters are in helicopters and farmers are carrying guns on their tractors.

Yet, there is no outcry or debate. No loud questions ring out over the scientific methods leading up to, or consequences of, the huge decisions being made. They are telling us that acting quickly is part of the solution. My mom always told me "Haste makes waste."

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