May 6, 2002 USA Today by Anita ManningLandowners and hunters in Wisconsin this week will begin the unprecedented killing of all the white-tailed deer -- up to 15,000 -- in a part of the state where the deer are affected by a disease similar to Britain's mad cow disease.
The state's Department of Natural Resources starts issuing special deer harvest permits to landowners today for the hunt. It will be up to the landowners to decide who can hunt on their property. The DNR also is proposing to lengthen the regular hunting season to help stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, a brain disease that infects and kills captive and wild deer and elk in western states and Canada. Once found only in Colorado and Wyoming, the disease has spread east of the Mississippi River. Many fear that if it isn't stopped, it could spread through the plentiful white-tailed-deer population of the East Coast. Infected animals become emaciated and disoriented and eventually die.
CWD has not spread to other species and doesn't appear to be a threat to humans, but scientists advise against eating meat from animals suspected of being infected.
In Wisconsin, wildlife officials are urging hunters and sharpshooters to kill all the deer in a 287-square-mile hot zone where, at the core, an estimated 9% may be infected.
The recommended approach has its critics. Animal ecologist Charles Southwick, of the University of Colorado, says CWD may have been around for generations, killing only those living in captivity or other stressful conditions, such as drought or overcrowding. He advises capturing deer and taking biopsies of tonsil tissue, where evidence of infection may appear before symptoms develop, at least in mule deer. If the test is effective for white-tailed deer, Southwick says, "that has the advantage of testing these animals and not destroying the healthy ones."
He says that he favors killing animals that appear sick, but he warns that the proposed hunt could spread the disease by forcing infected deer into other areas.
The disease had not been seen in Wisconsin until brain tests on white-tailed deer killed during the 2001 hunting season turned up three cases in the Mount Horeb area of Dane County, southwest of Madison. The state moved quickly to kill 516 more deer from the same region, discovering 11 more positive cases.
CWD's impact on the state's farmed deer and elk industry and its $ 1 billion hunting economy is likely to be dramatic, officials say.
Eastern states with plentiful herds of white-tailed deer, including Maryland and Tennessee, are "very concerned," says Lynn Creekmore, CWD@aphis.usda.gov, a veterinarian with the U.S. Agriculture Department. "Until this time, a lot of eastern states viewed this as a western problem."