Landowners rebuff plan to kill deer

August 27, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by MEG JONES 
Signaling resentment with the Department of Natural Resources' handling of the chronic wasting disease outbreak, landowners in more than a quarter of the eradication zone are refusing to kill deer or allow state sharpshooters on their property.

Owners of more than 63,000 acres in the eradication zone near Mount Horeb have signed petitions against participating in the DNR's plan to kill every whitetail deer in the area where 24 deer have tested positive for the deadly ailment, according to petition organizers.

Since much of the land in the 371-square-mile chronic wasting disease zone is in private hands, the DNR is relying on landowners to kill the deer on their land and bring in the carcasses for testing.

At public meetings, DNR officials have told landowners that if they're not part of the solution, they're part of the problem. That has rankled some property owners. "This is needless killing of deer," said John Barnes, a veterinarian who lives in Mount Vernon.

Without the help of most landowners, Bill Vander Zouwen, DNR section chief for wildlife ecology, admitted it will be difficult to contain the infection.

"We've said all along we need the participation of landowners," Vander Zouwen said. Without them, "We will not be as successful or maybe not be successful at all."

David Mandell, who is on the steering committee of Citizens Against Irrational Deer Slaughter, said more testing is needed to determine whether chronic wasting disease has infected deer elsewhere in the state.

"The way the DNR spun it is we're the 'do-nothings,' " Mandell said. "Nobody is advocating doing nothing. We just don't think the radical approach they're doing at this time is appropriate with the limited information we have on the extent of disease in the state."

Citizens Against Irrational Deer Slaughter and another group have circulated petitions at forums on the disease, as well as by going door to door and using the mail. Most of the property owners who signed the petitions are in the western end of the eradication zone, although some are in the eastern part.

Barnes said it will be difficult if not impossible to kill every deer in the eradication zone because of the hilly terrain and because the animals could simply move out of the area.

"From the start, they've not listened to any contrary information," Barnes said of the DNR. "They do not have an open mind about considering other options."

Could some minds change?

Vander Zouwen said the decision to cull the deer herd was made after carefully considering the advice of experts from around the country and using computer models to determine what would likely happen to the whitetail population if nothing is done.

The DNR also plans to test 500 deer in almost every county this fall to determine whether chronic wasting disease has spread.

Vander Zouwen said those test results may have an impact on the reluctant landowners.

"Probably by November, December and January, some of these folks will realize the disease is not everywhere. I don't believe it is," Vander Zouwen said. "That won't change some of their minds. Some believe diseases must take their toll. But I think if they saw the deer suffering through this, they would change their mind."

One-week deer hunts have been held in June, July and August, with another hunt scheduled for Sept. 7 to 13. About 1,100 special permits have been issued for the summer shooting sessions, and an additional 300 landowners are willing to allow government shooters on their property to collect deer.

Dick Sonnenberg, who lives on 80 acres in rural Black Earth, has participated in each hunt this summer and shot a yearling doe in June. Sonnenberg wasn't contacted by the DNR after test results came back from the June hunt so he assumes the doe he shot did not have chronic wasting disease.

"It's common sense to get rid of the diseased animals and the other animals who could spread the disease," Sonnenberg said.

It's possible that killing all 25,000 deer in the area is an overreaction to the problem, Sonnenberg said, but the alternative is to allow the diseased animals to infect others.

"They have found the animals were diseased here. If the people who shoot the deer are wrong, it's just a small amount of deer, it's like 1 percent of the deer population in the state" that would be killed, Sonnenberg said.

But if landowners who refuse to participate "are wrong, it will spread and contaminate these other animals in the state," he said.

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