Deer disease can't be ignored

April 14, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Jat Reed
Much has been written and said about the discovery of chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin's wild deer population.

It is the most discussed, and feared, conservation topic to come along in recent memory. Maybe ever.

You know about it. You've read about it. So, for purposes of today's dialogue, we'll spare you the basic details. A bottom line has developed here over the past months. This is it:

What can we, as hunters, do once we acknowledge that we stand in the presence of a potentially catastrophic decimation of the state's wild deer herd?

The answer is: Not much.

First things first. There are more things we do not know about the disease than things we do. But knowledge will come. Forces are at work. We, as hunters, are not yet a part of that.

Facts are sketchy

The issue is above and beyond those things we, as hunters, have had to deal with before. We could, and did, argue about season lengths, special seasons, whether or not we had as many deer as the state said we did.

But chronic wasting disease? That ain't in our book. It's not for the camp log. You fear it like a shadow in the night, but you can't grab it and shake it and put it up for a vote.

We know, for example, where the disease is located now. We don't know if it is in any other part of the state. Chances are, it is. That will be determined down the road. We don't know how it got here in the first place. We don't know how it is spread.

What will be done about it? We don't know. But it is being looked into on the highest priority. You need be neither hunter nor scientist to know the implications involved here.

Not the least of all of this is what should be done with the venison, shot last fall, that now resides in solid splendor, in your home freezer.

We are told there is no evidence to suggest that eating venison from a deer afflicted with the disease will affect humans. Neither, however, can it be said with certainty that it does not. That's good only as far as it goes. But this whole thing is early in development.

So the state neither encourages nor discourages consumption of venison. It is your choice.

Look, listen

Since we do not yet know where this investigation is going, or what it will lead to, we, as hunters, must cling to yesterday. The venison in my freezer was killed before we knew anything about the current problem. It will be consumed. That's not to say that others should do the same thing. It's your choice.

What you've got here, because of this, is a multi-faceted situation where what you have always believed is called into question because of today's complications.

This is what I know. You and I, as hunters, are not a part of the ground work going on appropriate to chronic wasting disease. It is possible that we will be called upon, somewhere down the road, to help.

What we need to do, as hunters, is watch and wait and listen. People who are technically skilled in disease abatement are at work. They'll do the best they can for you and for me and the deer herd.

In the meantime, Wisconsin is facing a big problem. Don't discount it. Don't turn it off. Don't turn your back on it. Not today, at least. And understand this:

Tomorrow may not be any better.

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