Commentary: Will new CWD-combat efforts save future of deer hunting?
By Gene Kemmeter
Wisconsin is enacting new requirements to combat chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the deer population.
Gov. Scott Walker announced a three-step plan Wednesday, May 2, to require more enhanced deer farm fencing through a new Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) rule; ban the movement of live deer from deer farms in CWD-affected counties; and create emergency and permanent rules banning the movement of deer carcasses from CWD-affected counties.
CWD is a spongiform encephalopathy, a fatal brain disease similar to mad cow disease, that is always fatal. It was first discovered in captive mule deer in Wyoming in the 1960s and has since spread to at least 22 states. The disease is contagious and found in deer, elk and moose. It has not been linked to human disease, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not eating the meat from CWD-positive animals.
CWD came to Wisconsin by unknown means, hopscotching several states from its stronghold in the West. Testing began in 1999, but the first positive identifications of CWD were found in 2002 after testing the deer harvest by hunters in the November 2001 season.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) instituted an aggressive campaign to wipe out the CWD threat, including sharpshooters and longer hunting seasons. Then Walker and the Legislature stepped in, limiting the DNR to use only monitoring and surveillance, a position espoused after Walker hired a “Deer Trustee,” and cut back on testing animals.
Since then, CWD-infected deer has continued to increase, and as of March 2017, Wisconsin had found a total of 3,581 deer that tested positive for CWD since the testing began.
Neighboring states aren’t experiencing the same increase. Illinois detected CWD in its deer herd in a county across the border from where Wisconsin detected it, and followed the same aggressive action to combat it as Wisconsin did initially. However, as Wisconsin backed off on its action, Illinois maintained its, and experiences only about a 1-percent CWD diagnosis in its deer herd annually, mostly along the Wisconsin border. Minnesota and Missouri have also taken aggressive approaches to combating CWD and appear to have held the disease in check.
Deer hunting has been an important part in Wisconsin history, and the many deer farms scattered around the state show the sport has developed into big business. Many hunters can’t wait to get out in the woods each fall.
However, will there be a future for deer hunting if the “do nothing” faction thinks everything will be OK by increasing the size of the herd? Who wants to go out and shoot a deer infected with a fatal brain disease, then bring it home for the family to eat?