Game farms now subject to closer scrutiny

September 29, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Bob Riepenhoff
State officials predicted last week that more Wisconsin game farms are likely to be quarantined as investigators follow the trail of a deer infected with chronic wasting disease that was shot on a private hunting preserve in Portage County earlier this month.

The deer was shot at Buckhorn Flats Game Farm. in Portage County. It was the first captive animal in the state to test positive for the disease.

It was also the first confirmed case of the fatal deer disease outside a 389-square-mile area near Mount Horeb, in parts if Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties, where 31 wild deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). Now the state is forced to fight the disease on two fronts.

The infected buck came from a Walworth County game farm owned by Wayne Kuhnke, of Delavan. Another game farm, owned by James Hirschboeck, of the Town of Troy, also in Walworth County, received deer from the Portage County game farm, which is owned by Stanley Hall, of Almond. All three game farms have been placed under quarantine.

Quarantines expected

State Veterinarian Clarence Siroky said the agriculture department will probably quarantine more state game farms as his agency and the Department of Natural Resources track the path of the infected deer.

On Wednesday, DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell told members of the Natural Resources Board, meeting in Grantsburg, that he had dispatched 60 game wardens to investigate the infected buck.

"The amount of animals that move within deer farms is phenomenal," Bazzell said. "You may see an animal move two, three times a year."

State records released to the Journal Sentinel last week show that Hall has a history of selling animals to operations all over the state, as well as some out-of-state operators.

Wisconsin has about 950 game farms.

The buck that tested positive was shot Sept. 4 by an out-of-state hunter who paid $4,000 for the deer.

DNR officials reiterated that the agency doesn't plan to change it's original strategy, which includes trying to kill all deer in the infected area near Mount Horeb, some 25,000 animals.

Beyond that, the agency plans to do some additional testing of car- and bow-killed deer around the three quarantined game farms to see if the disease has spread. But the DNR will mostly rely on a fall effort to test 500 deer from each county to determine whether the disease has moved to wild deer in Portage, Walworth or other counties.

Deer hunting license sales are down 22% from this time last year, a drop that many attribute to concerns about the safety of eating venison.

Officials say there is no scientific evidence that CWD can transmit to humans, but the World Health Organization advises people not to eat any part of any deer suspected of having the disease; or the brain, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes or spinal cord of any deer.

Many believe that adequate testing of individual deer would alleviate many hunters' concerns.

Last week, Hayward businessman William "Butch" Johnson announced plans to market a test kit for CWD this fall, even though the kit hasn't been approved by the government. Johnson, of Wildlife Support Services, said his firm plans to make the kits available to up to 35,000 hunters this fall. The kits will be sold for $60 at a retail chain in the state, beginning Oct. 10, he said.

Accuracy a concern

Tom Hauge, the DNR's director of wildlife management, said, however, that questions about the accuracy of the tests and the reliability of the tissue samples need to be answered.

Also last week, Gene Thera, a biotechnology company based in Colorado, announced that it has developed a live test that allows deer and elk to be tested for CWD without killing them.

Many of more than 400 hunters who attended a DNR public meeting on CWD in Waukesha last Wednesday, said they had not yet decided whether to hunt this fall.

Bazzell urged deer hunters to hunt this fall, freeze their venison and wait for test results from their county.

"We need your help to fight CWD," Bazzell said. "We can't do it alone."

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