March 28, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Lee Bergquist vMadison -- As authorities continue investigating the outbreak of chronic wasting disease in Dane and Iowa counties, one possible upshot could be future regulation over deer feeding practices in infected areas.
The state Department of Natural Resources could seek authority to regulate deer feeding as one way to control the disease, members of the Natural Resources Board were told Wednesday.
It is not clear what causes the disease to go from deer to deer, "but the transmission is somehow density-dependent," Sarah Shapiro Hurley, a DNR veterinarian, told the board. She and other DNR staff members said it is not uncommon for landowners to attract large numbers of deer by setting up feeding areas with big containers of shelled corn and other food. But Hurley said it was too early to try to limit such activities.
Authorities are still investigating why three white-tailed deer shot during the nine-day November 2001 deer season tested positive for chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease that causes deer to become emaciated and exhibit abnormal behavior.
The deer were killed in the Town of Vermont in Dane County near Mount Horeb, and a recent count of the region by the DNR using helicopters showed 2,925 deer in a 63-square-mile area.
The DNR is in the process of killing 500 deer in a broader zone -- 415 square miles in western Dane and eastern Iowa counties. So far, about 300 deer have been killed, mostly by private landowners who were given special permits. However, the DNR announced Tuesday that it is bringing in teams of sharpshooters to help with the kill and to speed up the testing of deer for the disease.
If the DNR can pinpoint a region where deer are infected, only then would it be prudent to limit feeding practices, Hurley said.
Chronic wasting disease is not known to be contagious to livestock or humans. The disease has been found in wild deer and elk in parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, and it has been found in elk farms in the parts of the western United States and in Saskatchewan. Owners of deer and elk farms in Wisconsin have been cooperating with authorities in a voluntary surveillance program of their animals.
In other matters Wednesday, DNR officials expressed concern that the budget repair bill passed by the Assembly has taken a disproportionate cut out of the agency's water protection programs.
Of the DNR's $6.9 million in cuts, $4.8 million would come from the water division, raising the possibility that some programs, such as inspecting large livestock farms for possible water pollution, would have to be turned over to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.