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Local deer council weighs in on CWD

At the Douglas County Deer Advisory Council’s meeting Jan. 18 in Superior, chair Al Horvath led off with a statement that would sum up the tone of the night’s discussion.

“We’re going to get into (situations) where 40 percent love it, 40 percent hate it and 20 percent just don’t care,” Horvath said. “The discussions ahead should be interesting, and that’s where we can really have an impact.”

The role of county deer advisory councils (CDACs) has expanded since the citizen-run groups were introduced in 2014. The most recent CDAC meeting focused on chronic wasting disease (CWD) and the Department of Natural Resources’ 15-year response plan.

Council members were asked to vote on 56 action items, covering everything from a potential statewide ban on baiting and feeding to CWD testing procedures.

“I think voting on 56 things at one meeting is not going to be that helpful,” said Mark Schroeder, representing forestry interests on the council. “Throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks is not helpful. We’re doing quantity over quality, in my opinion.”

Horvath also questioned how the CDAC votes would be interpreted, but he felt most items on the agenda were easy to support.

The Douglas County council gave unanimous approval to 47 of the 56 items considered. Only one of the measures was voted down, and another required Horvath to cast a tiebreaking vote.

The item rejected by the council called for a statewide ban on deer baiting and feeding. The item approved by a tiebreaker vote called for the DNR to explore alternative strategies to reduce CWD testing costs, which could include allowing hunters to collect their own samples or pay a testing fee.

Among counties in northwest Wisconsin, Iron County also voted against a statewide baiting and feeding ban but approved all other items.

Bayfield, Burnett and Rusk counties took a harder line. They voted strongly in favor of a statewide ban and approved every other item except for a proposed sunset clause that would allow for the resumption of feeding and baiting in CWD-affected counties after a set period of time had passed without another positive test.

Voting results for Ashland, Barron and Polk counties were not available.

Washburn County voted 3-1 in favor of a statewide baiting and feeding ban. The Washburn council also approved the sunset clause but rejected several other measures, including deer farm proposals the members felt did not go far enough.

One such item called for enhanced fencing at deer farms with positive CWD tests. Washburn rejected the measure unanimously.

In explanation, the council wrote that “all positive facilities should be promptly depopulated. All regular farms need to be double fenced to protect possible transmission to the outside or by wild animals into facility.”

At the meeting in Superior, deer farm regulations and a potential baiting and feeding ban were the most debated topics.

Opinion was split on a potential baiting ban. One audience member said he felt CWD was being used as an excuse to implement a ban.

Another member of the audience, Rick Davey, warned against “knee-jerk reactions.”

“I’m just wondering where we’re all going to go with this,” he said. “What will happen to our hunting traditions?”

Horvath said he would personally be willing to make sacrifices, such as supporting a baiting and feeding ban, to ensure the long-term health of Wisconsin’s deer herd.

“There’s a tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding about CWD,” Horvath said. “Once it’s here it’s here. Experts will tell you prevention is key.

“The very basic idea of hunting is compromised if that deer herd is contaminated.”

On the matter of deer farm regulation, most of the crowd in Superior favored more stringent rules. A general consensus existed toward mandatory double-fencing and depopulation of all CWD-positive farms.

Several people in attendance, however, disputed the notion that deer farms are responsible for the spread of CWD.

No definitive link has been proven, they said, and in states without any deer farms, like Wyoming, CWD still exists and spreads in the landscape.

“I think they were speaking in support of what they are doing, and I respect that,” Horvath said. “We’re trying to hear everybody and we’re trying to work together.”

The meeting in Superior drew a crowd of about 20 people, which DNR wildlife biologist Greg Kessler said was a higher turnout than in surrounding counties.

Northern counties as a whole tended to have lower attendance, he said, because CWD has not been detected in much of the region.

“Largely, the north has been spared from dealing with this,” Kessler said.

The nearest case to Douglas County occurred in Washburn County near Shell Lake. One deer was confirmed to have the disease in 2011, but no additional cases have been confirmed since.

Statewide, the disease has continued to spread, Kessler said. In Iowa County, the percentage of adult bucks confirmed to have CWD (from among the deer tested) climbed from 4 percent in 2002 to more than 40 percent in 2014.

During that same period, funding cuts have forced the DNR to reduce the number of deer it tests annually.

In 2002, the year CWD was first confirmed in Wisconsin, the DNR tested 40,062 deer for the disease. In 2015, only 3,125 were tested.

“It’s a huge issue, not just for us but nationwide,” Kessler said.

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