DNR boosts deer kill to 500 animals

March 9, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Jessica Hansen
About 500 white-tailed deer -- not 100 as initially estimated -- must be killed in central Wisconsin as part of the state's effort to combat a deadly disease that was discovered in three bucks in that area, the Department of Natural Resources said Friday.

The new figure comes just one day after the DNR said it would shoot up to 100 deer within a 10-mile radius of the area in western Dane County and eastern Iowa County where hunters last fall shot three deer with chronic wasting disease.

The DNR plans to shoot the deer and test their carcasses for the disease, which is similar to mad cow disease.

On Thursday, officials said they were unsure exactly how many deer would have to be shot for the tests, but estimated that no more than 200 animals would be killed. Eighty-two have already been tested. That changed Friday, after statisticians reviewed the estimated sample size, said Tom Hauge, director of wildlife management for the DNR. Hauge said DNR officials increased the sample size because the 100 deer originally estimated would not have rendered a reliable enough statistical sample to check for the disease.

Hauge said the new number was based solely on a review of the sample size and not on any new discoveries of infected deer.

He added that the decision to kill 500 deer is the first in a long line of choices and challenges the DNR will face in dealing with chronic wasting disease, which attacks the brains of infected deer and elk. There is no evidence that the disease can infect humans [There is evidence that CWD prions can infect human brain tissue--BSE coordinator].

"It's not like you and I going into the doctor's office for a throat culture for strep throat," Hauge said. "Animals have to be killed and very likely will have brain tissue taken for lab analysis. Logistically, we have to make sure our wildlife health biologists and veterinarians are ready to have animals start coming in."

DNR officials are scrambling not only to prepare analysts and labs, but to inform area residents about plans to kill the deer, which could begin as early as Wednesday or Thursday, Hauge said.

An informational meeting is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. March 20 at Mount Horeb High School to explain the harvest to residents. DNR officials also plan to call and visit area residents to notify them of shooting in their area, Hauge said.

The DNR plans to ask local landowners to join the hunt to expedite the kill, but Hauge said officials were unsure how long the effort might take.

Once the harvest is complete, Hauge said, the DNR officials will decide how to handle any additional cases of chronic wasting disease.

"Our focus at this point in time is, where is it? And once we know that, what should we do about it?" Hauge said. "The no-brainer part is that we don't want it to spread to other parts of state."

Just what can be done to prevent the disease from spreading is unclear, however. This is especially true considering that researchers are unsure exactly how chronic wasting disease is transmitted, Hauge said.

"We don't know if it's saliva or feeding on similar plants. I don't think that type of baseline research has been done. At this point in time, we don't know how the disease got here. We may never know what got it here," he said.

Peter Gerl, executive director of Whitetails Unlimited, said he was glad to see the DNR taking an aggressive step toward locating, and ultimately eradicating, the deadly disease.

"It's a good investment for the sportsman," Gerl said. "I guess what we have to look at right now is we have an estimated population of about 1 million whitetails. The 500 animals that would have to be harvested would be well worth the price if it means protecting the overall population."

The kill will take place in what is one of the most fruitful areas in Wisconsin for deer hunters.

"I imagine some hunters within that area may be upset about losing animals to science as opposed to the sport of hunting," Gerl said. "We don't want to see any animals harvested for science unless there is an actual valid reason for doing it. But it's a matter of putting our faith in DNR. The bottom line is we're supportive of what the department has to do."

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