March 18, 2002 The Associated PressA state Department of Natural Resources administrator acting on information from Montana urged officials, four years ago, to take stronger precautions for preventing a deadly brain disease in deer, a newspaper reported.
State officials told the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison they now wish they had followed the memo's advice. Some lawmakers are calling for a ban on imported elk and deer to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease. The DNR confirmed three deer shot by hunters last fall in Wisconsin had chronic wasting disease, the first documented cases east of the Mississippi River. The agency estimates as many as 700 deer concentrated around Mount Horeb, or 3 percent to 4 percent of the herd, are infected.
DNR officials were advised in a 1998 memo that they needed to take strong measures against the disease. Steven Miller, an administrator with the department's land division, had learned Montana was considering a ban on all imported game farm animals until an adequate live test for chronic wasting disease was developed.
Montana put in place the moratorium in 2000, and the disease has not yet shown up in wild animals there.
"Based upon what I have learned of this disease, I agree with Montana and would recommend the same for Wisconsin," Miller wrote in 1998 to then-DNR Secretary George Meyer. "At present it appears this would be the only way to help assure the disease does not spread into Wisconsin."
Meyer told the newspaper he wishes his efforts to encourage such a ban were more successful.
Meyer said he asked the agriculture department, which regulates game farms, to consider moving forward with tighter regulations after receiving the memo.
The department organized an advisory committee made up almost entirely of game farm operators to meet and discuss chronic wasting disease prevention measures.
Game farm operators opposed a ban on importing wild animals in 1998. Mike Monson, then-president of the Wisconsin Commercial Deer & Elk Farmer's Association, wrote a letter to a state veterinarian in 1998 to oppose the idea.
The association now argues such a ban would have done little good, because the disease's most likely source in Wisconsin is the wild deer herd.
The newspaper obtained the DNR memo through John Stauber, a Madison writer and author of a book on mad cow disease. He turned up the memo in an open records search.
DNR wildlife specialists now are working to determine how far the disease may have spread since it first was confirmed several weeks ago.