State works at plan to halt outbreak

May 12, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Bob Riepenhoff
Wisconsin continues to struggle to come to grips with the recent outbreak of chronic wasting disease in whitetail deer.

On Tuesday, Gov. Scott McCallum called the disease "the most serious animal health crisis in our history."

McCallum announced that he will call the Legislature into special session this week after legislative leaders agreed on a plan to combat the disease.

The plan calls for providing the Department of Natural Resources with $4 million for testing, equipment, staff and other disease-fighting efforts; targeting $901,600 in Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory money to attack the disease; and authorizing the DNR to allow state or federal officials to shoot deer from roadways and helicopters to manage the disease, at least until Sept. 1, 2003. Meanwhile, Representative DuWayne Johnsrud (R-Eastman), chairman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, has called for the DNR to ban feeding and baiting of deer, statewide. Feeding and baiting have been linked to the spread of the disease.

'Logical steps' needed

"To be successful in eradicating this disease, we have to take logical steps to reduce the risk of CWD spreading outside the affected area," Johnsrud said.

Johnsrud also called for:

-- The DNR to ban the use of deer-attracting scents using deer urine or other deer fluids, saying that prions, the mutant proteins that cause chronic wasting disease, are present in the urine and other fluids of infected deer.

-- The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to ban transfer of captive live deer and elk, or carcasses or parts, within the state.

"Now is the time to be aggressive and proactive statewide," Johnsrud said. "These measures are necessary at least until we can bring CWD under control."

Earlier this month, more than 2,000 people attended the first of five DNR informational meeting on the disease in Mount Horeb. All 14 of the deer that have tested positive for the disease were found in the Mount Horeb area. Another 250 people attended a second meeting in Eau Claire Wednesday.

Additional meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. May 14 at Rhinelander High School, 315 S. Oneida Ave.; May 15 at Waukesha County Expo Center, 100 Northview Road; and May 16 in Green Bay at Southwest High School Auditorium, 1331 Packard Drive.

While concern about the disease abounds, Tom Heberlein, emeritus professor of rural sociology at the University of Wisconsin, sees potential for some positive outcomes.

"Generally we don't do much social change unless there's a crisis," said Heberlein, who has studied deer hunters and hunting for more than 20 years. "Then things move very fast."

Heberlein believes it's time for wildlife watchers to start paying for the privilege of feeding deer.

"In the history of wildlife management, programs have largely been funded by consumptive users -- hunters and anglers," he said. "The non-consumptive users haven't been paying their share."

Heberlein does not oppose a temporary ban of baiting and feeding.

"You could have a temporary ban, and then go back and see how to do it (regulate feeding)," Heberlein said.

He suggests establishing some type of permit or licensing process for those who feed deer, with proceeds going to wildlife management. Another option would be for the state to sell the only legal feed, and use the proceeds to fight chronic wasting disease.

Benefits seen

Heberlein also sees potential social benefits to the lower deer densities that are expected to result from the disease. A reduced deer population will not only reduce crop damage and car-deer collisions, it will improve the individual hunting experience, he believes.

"Scarcity of game is part of the attraction of hunting," he said. "It's overcoming scarcity. We've got so many deer right now that you see people doing things to create the challenge -- hunting only big bucks, using handguns, bows or muzzleloaders. All that is in response to high deer densities. Chronic wasting disease is an excuse to reduce deer densities."

In a related development, Whitetails Unlimited announced that the organization has established a national fund to help pay for research into chronic wasting disease, and is donating $50,000 in matching funds.

"The appearance of chronic wasting disease east of the Mississippi River is a troubling new development in the progression of the disease," said Peter J. Gerl, executive director of the conservation organization, headquartered in Sturgeon Bay.

Gerl said that Whitetails Unlimited would pay administrative costs and all donations would go to the research. Donations can be sent to: CWD Research, Whitetails Unlimited, P.O. Box 720, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235. Call the organization at (800) 274-5471.

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