Hunting is a $4 billion industry in Wisconsin, according to Al Horvath, vice chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress deer and elk committee and chairman of the Douglas County Deer Advisory Council.
Protecting that industry is the goal behind a one-year moratorium that prohibits transporting live deer into Douglas County and the creation of the Communicable Diseases in Cervids study group.
The group is leaning toward a change in zoning options - an additional agriculture zone for deer farms and hunting reserves - to try to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in Douglas County.
The new AG-2 zoning district could including bonding requirements, depopulation plans, restrict density and place other conditions on anyone planning to start a deer farm or hunting reserve in the county.
"We need to be the county to get out ahead of this," Supervisor Peter Clark said.
"I would like to see double fencing in this," Supervisor Keith Allen said. "I would like to see it checked weekly, monthly, whatever time frame is realistic."
Allen said he would like to include regulations that would prevent deer from outside Douglas County being transported from farms that have tested positive for CWD in the past, avoiding property with water adjacent or running through it, plus having an ongoing inventory of deer on the farm or reserve, and the population should be capped.
Cade Musch of Long Lake White Tails in South Range said animal units is a good, healthy herd decision, but any caps would have to reflect sustainable business. However, finding property without water would be difficult in Douglas County, he said.
"It should be expanded to any wild, captive game, not just deer or cervids," Allen said. "I mean buffalo, sheep. We need to look at all of them to be inclusive (and avoid loopholes). It might be some disease later on that we didn't think of."
Allen questioned whether those zones could be designated to ensure that pristine areas like the Brule River could be protected and the county could direct the enterprises to areas where the soil isn't as dense as the clay soils that are more likely to retain the disease-causing prions.
"My concern is that deer operation (where) I find out that I have CWD, they destroy my herd. I walk away from the place," Supervisor Joe Moen said. "Now, Douglas County, it's yours to deal with."
Zoning coordinator Keith Wiley said the county could require a surety bond that would protect the county's interests in the event an operator walks away.
It's something the county requires now for nonmetallic mine operators so the county has a financial tool to reclaim mined areas in the event the operator walks away or files for bankruptcy without addressing its reclamation plan.
Unlike the mining requirement, which has a fixed area, Supervisor Scott Luostari questioned how much of a bond would be required because a loose deer with CWD would have the potential to spread the disease further than the confines of a farm or reserve.
Study group chairwoman Mary Lou Bergman said she would like to see plans address carcass disposal
Musch said it should be clarified because while every death is tested, not every death is related to CWD, and the measures necessary would be less critical for a deer that doesn't have CWD.
The proposed zoning district would still have to be reviewed by corporation counsel and will include suggestions made by committee members, Bergman said.
New deer farms would be required to seek a zoning change, which requires town and county approval, but any change in the zoning districts wouldn't have a significant impact the two deer farms already established in Douglas County, according to Wiley.
Deer farms and hunting reserves are currently regulated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
"They would be free to operate as they are," Wiley said. "They would still have to meet DNR and DATCP requirements."