Wis. plans to wipe out 25,000 deer

May 3, 2002 The Denver Post by Theo Stein
Wisconsin officials will try to kill all 25,000 white-tailed deer in a 290-square-mile area of farmland in an attempt to eliminate a recent outbreak of chronic wasting disease.

The program, which would essentially create a death zone lasting a minimum of five years near the capital, Madison, is the only strategy that has a chance of wiping out the fatal brain disease, Colorado wildlife veterinarian Mike Miller said Wednesday at a packed, three-hour informational meeting near Madison.

Biologists also will create a buffer zone where they would reduce deer populations by 30 percent to 50 percent. That could result in the removal of another 70,000 animals over three years. 'As unpalatable as those things are, the alternatives, I assure you, are far worse in the long term,' Miller said.

Wisconsin's control plan is essentially the 'hot-spot' strategy recently adopted by Colorado and Saskatchewan, but writ large on a landscape packed with deer. Officials hope to break the chain of infection by denying the disease its victims.

Colorado officials employed that strategy recently in Routt County, removing 420 animals in a 5-mile radius around five CWD-infected mule deer. Test results on those animals are pending. But Wisconsin faces tough challenges. White-tail densities routinely approach 80 to 100 animals per square mile, many times higher than Colorado.

No one has yet controlled a CWD outbreak in the wild.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum said Tuesday that the state needs at least $ 22.5 million over the next three years to hire additional staff to fight the disease, pay for sampling and buy equipment to test for it.

Chronic wasting disease, a relative of mad cow disease, spread slowly for decades in northeastern Colorado before state wildlife officials began an experiment to see if its spread could be controlled by reducing deer populations. The disease makes its victims grow thin and die as it eats holes in their brains. It also infects a large area of Wyoming, where officials have undertaken education and monitoring programs, but no control measures.

Wisconsin officials, by contrast, have acted with alacrity to the new threat.

Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Bill Vander Zouwen told nearly 2,000 people who gathered at a high school gymnasium in Mount Horeb that the full cooperation of hunters and landowners would be necessary to eliminate the outbreak.

Landowners will be given permission to kill deer year round. Wisconsin also will exercise its authority to kill deer on private land even when the landowner objects, deer biologist Bill Mynton said.

At the Wisconsin meeting, people applauded the bitter plan.

Julie Langenberg, a wildlife veterinarian for the Wisconsin DNR, said the major difference may be that Coloradans have lived with CWD for decades, where in Wisconsin it's a novel threat.

'There's a sense here if we act really aggressively, we can control or even eliminate it,' she said.

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