A Bayfield County deer farm was placed under quarantine this month in connection with the discovery of chronic wasting disease at a deer farm about 200 miles away in Washington County, Wisconsin.
A buck born on the Washington County breeding farm was found dead from injuries apparently sustained in a fight. The deer tested positive for CWD on March 8 and the farm was automatically quarantined, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Because 24 deer had been transferred from the infected farm to the Bayfield County farm in December and January, the northern farm was also placed under quarantine.
No deer from the Bayfield County farm, located in the town of Oulu, have tested positive for the disease.
According to State Veterinarian Dr. Paul McGraw, transfers of animals from the Washington County farm for the past five years will be scrutinized. He stressed that neither farm owner did anything illegal; no violations were committed. Both farms were registered and certified.
"This is the challenge with CWD," McGraw said. "It continues to move in the wild and on farms."
The first deer farm in the state to register a CWD positive test was in 2002 in Walworth County. Since then, farm-raised deer in 16 counties have tested positive for CWD. A map of registered deer farms shows 11 deer farms have been depopulated following a positive test for CWD. Five hunting preserves and two deer farms infected with CWD are shown as currently in operation.
A positive result does not always lead to depopulation of a farm, McGraw said. One option would be to keep the farm quarantined for five years after exposure, with no deer allowed in or out.
In the case of the deer recently transferred to Bayfield County, McGraw said, it may be best to try to get the deer off the landscape.
That's what Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, is pushing for. He sent a letter to DATCP Secretary Sheila Harsdorf on Friday asking that all the deer that were transported off the infected farm be tested for CWD. A deer must be killed for it to be tested.
"I think it's in the best interest of the deer farmer in Bayfield County and in the best interest of the taxpayers, who ultimately pay to have deer farms depopulated or culled and tested," Milroy said.
The DATCP put the entire state under quarantine for the emerald ash borer last week, he said.
"We don't want to get to that point with deer."
Infected deer may not show symptoms for years, Milroy said. During that time, they can shed CWD prions (infectious agents) at the fence line through urine, feces or a dead carcass that wild deer could come into contact with, Milroy said. They could also escape into the wild.
According to the DATCP, wild deer have tested positive for CWD in 23 counties, most of them in the south-central area of the state.
In 2017, Milroy and Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, introduced the Save Our Deer Act. Among its provisions, the bill would require stricter standards, including double fencing or electric fences for deer farms where an animal tested positive for CWD. It would also require that all fences on deer farms be inspected every two years and have electronic monitoring systems that indicate when gates are open.
It's just common sense, Milroy said.
There are about 400 deer farms in Wisconsin, the legislator said, ranging from small petting zoos to game hunting farms that stretch over hundreds of acres. If CWD continues to spread and the public demands farms shut down, taxpayers would bear the cost of depopulation.
Milroy described a deer farm in Eau Claire County that was depopulated about five years ago. The owner of the farm was reimbursed more than $300,000 for the lost animals at taxpayer expense, Milroy said.
"If farms are allowed to operate, he have to have regulations in place that are going to minimize the possibility of spreading CWD to the wild," Milroy said.
He plans to reintroduce the bill during the next legislative session.