Steps continue as state outlines battle plan

May 19, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Bob Riepenhoff
There were several important developments last week as Wisconsin fights to deal with the outbreak of chronic wasting disease in its deer population.

On Thursday, Gov. Scott McCallum testified before a joint hearing of two House subcommittees in Washington D.C., seeking $18.5 million in federal money to combat the disease over the next three years.

"Today, I would like your assurance that the federal government will provide grants to the states that are on the front line fighting CWD," McCallum told the subcommittees. "Wisconsin will do everything it can to help prevent CWD from appearing in other Midwestern states." Also in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, a key House committee approved a $29.4 billion spending package that would allocate a $10 million emergency fund to Wisconsin and other states coping with the disease.

In Wisconsin Saturday, Gov. Scott McCallum signed bills that provide $4 million for testing, equipment, staff and other disease-fighting efforts; allocate $900,000 to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create the first lab in the state capable of testing for the disease; and give the DNR authority to regulate feeding of deer, which has been linked to the spread of the disease.

Meetings draw crowds

Around the state this week, the DNR held the last three of five public meetings on chronic wasting disease, explaining what is known about the disease and attempting to gather support for the agency's control plan. In Rhinelander, 360 showed up for a meeting Tuesday. In Waukesha, a standing-room-only crowd of more that 1,400 jammed the Waukesha Expo Center for another meeting Wednesday. And in Green Bay, the final meeting was held Thursday night.

The DNR's plan calls for attempting to kill every deer inside the 287-acre "eradication zone" near Mount Horeb, where all 14 whitetail deer that have tested positive for the disease were found.

The DNR had initially announced that kill permits would be issued to landowners in the eradication zone as early as May 6, but DNR officials now say they may begin issuing the permits this week.

On Tuesday, DNR officials said it was unlikely that hunters or sharpshooters would kill massive numbers of deer this spring and summer in the area near Mount Horeb. They said that property owners will probably only kill about 500 deer in the eradication zone, an area that has up to 15,000 deer that the agency wants to eradicate.

"Once the glamour is over -- if that's what you want to call it -- people are going to go on to other pursuits," said Bill Mytton, big game ecologist with the DNR.

Mytton also said that thickening foliage was making it harder to find deer. A team of state and federal sharpshooters may have found that to be the case when it took a first step toward that eradication goal Tuesday.

The 19-member team killed just eight of the 40 to 50 deer believed to be in Blue Mounds State Park, west of Madison and inside the eradication zone.

Agency officials also told two Legislative committees Tuesday that the brunt of the shooting would take place this fall when the DNR hopes to expand the deer season to reduce the deer herd in 10 counties surrounding the eradication zone. The proposed hunt would run Oct. 24 through Jan. 31 in that area.

Opposition emerges

But opposition to the DNR's plan is emerging from some hunters and landowners.

The Wisconsin Deer Hunters Coalition called Wednesday for the DNR to reduce the scope of the 10-county hunt and to delay any disease-control killing until after the fall gun deer season.

"Why not let people enjoy a normal hunting season before getting down to the dirty business of eradication?" asked Greg Kazmierski, a founder of the coalition.

On Monday, George Meyer, former Natural Resources Secretary, criticized the state agriculture department for not doing enough to control the spread of the disease in Wisconsin.

"It is clear that (the department) should have done more to test and regulate game farms and prohibit the import of elk and deer from areas with chronic wasting disease, but they refused to do it," Meyer said.

State Veterinarian Clarence Siroky disputed the claim, saying that the department approved emergency rules last month to step up testing and effectively block the shipment of game animals into the state.

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