Wildlife Expert 'Very Skeptical' of Mass Deer Cull

May 3, 2002 Personal Communication from Charles Southwick
As I mentioned this morning, I am not an expert on white-tailed deer, but my scientific field is mammalian population ecology, and I have worked on mule deer populations for 23 years. Here are some of the points I have expressed to the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

(1) Large scale culling may actually spread the CWD infection by stimulating movements and dispersal.
(2) The great majority of animals killed (98 to 99%) are healthy, uninfected individuals. These may contain genetic resistance in the PrP gene for resistance to CWD. Hence, large culls may kill the very animals that can restore deer and elk herds to healthy status. We know that prion infections do not result in a normal immune response, but the frequency of genetic resistance has not been adequately studied.
(3) Many other aspects of CWD have not been adequately studied: modes of transmission; the likelihood that it has been present and not diagnosed since the l920s; the possibilities of live- tests via urine, saliva or blood, in addition to tonsilar biopsies; relationships to scrapie, etc. Without more knowledge on these basic topics in epidemiology, massive kills are truly shooting in the dark.
(4) I and my colleagues have urged Colorado (the DOW, the Governor's Office, and State Legislators) to provide more funding for tonsillar biopsies (rather than massive kills) and more funds for research.
(5) We have also insisted on faster, better pathology exams, and safe incineration of carcasses rather than disposal in landfills. We feel that deer and elk farms must be closed down.

As for my personal background for these opinions: I am retired Professor Emeritus of Environmental, Population and Organismic Biology at the University of Colorado, and former Professor of Pathobiology at Johns Hopkins University. I have an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I origin- ally went to UW to study under Aldo Leopold, but by time I got there (1949) he had died in fighting a brush fire at his "Shack." I stayed on in the Wildlife Dept. under Joe Hickey and Bob McCabe, did my Master's on waterfowl ecology at Delta, Manitoba, but then transferred to the Zoology Department under John Emlen. I have had Post-doctoral Fellowships in the Bureau of Animal Population of Oxford University, and Aligarh University in India. Since my Ph.D. in 1953, I have studied and worked on ecological topics in more than 60 countries. I've been a consultant to many governmental and private agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the N.S.F., N.I.H., Nat. Acad. of Sciences, Rockefeller Foundation, National Geographic Society, Pan Amerian Health Organization, etc. I've published over 130 scientific articles and 8 books, primarily on ecology of animal populations. I work primarily at home, 303-494-4832, but I also have an office at 303-492-5468, so I shuttle back and forth to some extent.

I can't say for certain that Wisconsin is not doing the right thing, but I am very skeptical. I understand their concern about both the hunting and dairy industries, not to mention human health worries. However, I am sure no hunting effort can kill every deer in a 265 square mile area, and I think the attempt to do so without relying more on live tests is a mistake.

Charles Southwick

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