- Chronic wasting disease could lead to disaster

Chronic wasting disease could lead to disaster

March 24, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Tim Eisele
The discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in three wild deer in southwestern Wisconsin on Feb. 28 is a very serious matter, according to David Ladd, Conservation Congress delegate from Iowa County who chairs the Congress' Big Game Study Committee and its Deer 2000 and Beyond initiative.

"This is very, very, very serious, and I hope, as does everyone, that we can contain it right there," Ladd said. "There are a lot of unknowns, and the worst thing that can happen is if we also find CWD in central and northern Wisconsin."

Ladd emphasizes the importance of deer hunting to Wisconsin's economy, noting that it is a $1 billion-plus business to the state. For many hunters it involves several days of hunting every year to harvest animals for meat, and the disease will make a difference on whether or not they continue to hunt. Ladd supports efforts by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to shoot 500 deer in the Dane/Iowa County area to determine the extent of CWD in the herd.

"I really appreciate that the DNR is reaching out to landowners and allowing landowners to harvest the deer," Ladd said.

"The DNR is doing a great job of trying to contain this, but I just wish that the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) would step up a little more than what they are, and maybe Health and Family Services too," Ladd said. "Deer hunting in this state is an important recreational activity. I hope that people continue to hunt, because if not the consequences of agricultural damage from deer will be severe."

Ladd does not feel that the finding of CWD pulls the rug out from under the Deer 2000 committee recommendations.

Deer 2000 had asked to reduce the amount of bait used from the present 10 gallons down to 6 gallons, but Ladd doesn't really think there is much difference between whether a person uses 6 or 10 gallons of bait. What he does believe is that in the area where CWD is now present there should be a moratorium on all baiting and feeding.

One of the recommendations that came out of the Deer 2000 Baiting and Feeding committee was to control the disease before it enters the state. That involved mandatory testing of captive wildlife and animals coming into and going out from the state, which Ladd believes should have been implemented much earlier.

Must be contained

"CWD is serious, and we ought to do everything we can to contain it," Ladd said. "The state Department of Agriculture needs to step up to the plate. We don't know where this is coming from, whether or not it involves game farms, but we should at least have mandatory testing in the affected area. If game farms lose an animal to testing, then compensate them for it."

Ladd said there is still some unfinished business from Deer 2000, including an outside audit of the DNR's sex-age-kill formula. SAK is the formula used by the DNR to estimate the herd size based on the sex, age and number of animals killed during the deer hunting season.

Many hunters and groups are complaining that deer populations are down, yet where CWD was found Ladd said biologists estimate there are between 40 to 100 deer per square mile.

Audit needed

"We need an outside audit of SAK, so that we know where our numbers are. We also need to complete some of the other recommendations, such as radio collaring deer to learn more about mortality, including car kills, wolf kills, and any deaths caused by disease," Ladd said. "More research and education, which we asked for in Deer 2000, is very important."

Ladd has served 33 years on the Conservation Congress, more than two decades as chair of Big Game, and is a strong believer in prairie restoration. In 2000 he was named by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as Conservationist of the Year. In 1988 he was named Wisconsin's Small Business Person of the Year and he was third in national competition that year.

Ladd lives west of Dodgeville and his land is not within the CWD surveillance area and won't affect his consumption of venison, but he knows that it definitely will affect whether people within that area continue to eat venison.

Ladd would like to see the DNR do some things to encourage hunters to shoot more antlerless deer to reduce populations. The DNR could eliminate the $12 fee for bonus permits or provide other incentives to harvest deer.

Landowners are paying big taxes and they should also receive something back to allow hunting on their land.

"We need to look at incentives for private landowners who allow deer hunting on their land," he said.

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