DNR deer approach scary

May 25, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Joel Mcnally
The word "irony" was invented to describe the mass slaughter of 15,000 deer in order to keep Wisconsin's deer population strong and healthy so there will be plenty of able-bodied deer around for hunters to blow away every fall.

The state Legislature set some kind of land speed record in passing a $4 million plan advocated by the Department of Natural Resources to wipe out the entire deer population in a 287-square-mile area where chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease related to mad cow disease, has been discovered.

No doubt one reason for the enthusiasm was that the DNR plan sounded like a deer hunter's dream come true, piling up mountains of deer like cordwood, no limit. But it's not just wimpy animal lovers who are starting to raise questions about whether the DNR really knows what it's doing. * H ow did the DNR get in charge of public health in Wisconsin anyway? If this fatal deer disease spreads to cows or people in Wisconsin, it will be an unprecedented public health disaster. Yet all the DNR talks about is its effect on the deer hunt.

By now we should all be tired of reading those bogus numbers the DNR throws around to prove the important contribution to Wisconsin's economy from the so-called "hunting culture" -- talk about an oxymoron. Officials make up enormous numbers, claiming deer hunting generates hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue every year. No deer hunter can possibly drink that much.

Well, the agricultural culture and the human being culture play pretty important roles in Wisconsin's economy as well.

The DNR still is not able to assure deer hunters that the animals they killed last fall are really safe to eat. It has warned hunters not to consume brains, spinal cords or eyes, which few hunters ever have been savage enough to eat anyway. It also has said there is no evidence of chronic wasting disease endangering humans as a result of eating diseased meat.

But of course that's what health authorities used to tell Europeans about mad cow disease until people started dying.

The DNR also assures dairy and beef farmers in Wisconsin there is absolutely no evidence of chronic wasting disease spreading from deer to endanger cattle. When you read that sentence closely, you realize it is an elaborate way of saying that the DNR hasn't found any connection yet.

When you are talking about a potential time bomb that could wipe out the state's signature agricultural livelihood, it would be nice if the state could be a little more reassuring than simply proclaiming "So far, so good."

It also would help if the DNR had a little more credibility. Unfortunately, ever since this disease was first discovered, the primary focus of the DNR has been exactly where it always has been in recent years: protecting and expanding Wisconsin's deer hunt.

This is what happens when you replace professional conservationists, who once made the DNR a highly respected agency of environmental protection, with political appointees whose primary concern is satisfying yahoo legislators and the National Rifle Association.

In fact, the DNR has rushed so quickly to launch a mass deer slaughter that it appears to have given little thought about what to do with 15,000 dead and possibly diseased deer. We still haven't figured out where to permanently store deadly nuclear waste. Now we're suddenly going to have more than 2 million pounds of potentially toxic deer meat.

Not only does the state not have adequate laboratories to test such a large number of deer, but there are tremendous environmental concerns about how to dispose of so many toxic deer. Landfill operators are concerned about contaminating ground water.

Even those brave hunters who were eager to kill deer morning, noon and night as a form of civic duty are having second thoughts. The DNR has warned hunters not to gut the deer themselves, so hunters are going to have to drag intact 150-pound deer out of the woods one at a time.

* T he primary concern, of course, should be human safety as free-lance deer hunters and professional sharpshooters spread across a huge Wisconsin landscape populated with rich human life as well as wildlife. Life won't stop during an open-ended mass deer slaughter, and anything that moves will be in danger.

There are very good reasons why private landowners post so much of their land off limits to hunters. Out in the exurbs of Ozaukee County, angry homeowners have become increasingly vocal about getting their kitchen windows shot out while sitting at the breakfast nook. That's what they get for inviting deer in for brunch.

There are an enormous number of questions about public health and safety related to the DNR's "scorched earth" plan. Maybe it's time to involve some real public health experts who aren't armed and dangerous.

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