Hassett named by governor-elect to be new DNR Secretary

MADISON — The discovery of chronic wasting disease in three white-tailed deer from the Mt. Horeb area of Iowa and Dane counties on Feb. 28, was the state’s biggest natural resources story of 2002, and perhaps the most far-reaching biological, social and financial issue relating to natural resource management in Wisconsin over the past 50 years, according to the state’s top environmental official.

“No other event in the recent history of the Department of Natural Resources has generated the concern of Wisconsin sports people and biologists,” said DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell. The issues required an unprecedented reallocation of funds and staffing within the agency.

Bazzell said the estimated fiscal cost to the DNR alone was some $12 million, and the disease threatens a nearly $1 billion in-state economy. The fervor over this issue produced the most heavily attended public meetings the agency has ever seen with over 1,600 people attending a single meeting in Mt. Horeb. The issue generated huge volumes of media coverage, including the arrival of news crews from several European countries as well as Japan.

The state Natural Resources Board approved special regulations to halt spread of the disease and to control or eliminate it in the area where it was found. Those regulations included several extended deer hunting seasons in the CWD management zones, as well as special “earn-a-buck” rules to encourage the shooting of antlerless deer, and a controversial statewide prohibition against baiting or feeding deer. Wildlife officials in Wisconsin and across the nation feel that baiting and feeding deer concentrates deer and could help spread CWD as well as other diseases.

Wildlife officials announced the goal of the special regulations was to try and eliminate all or as many of the deer as possible in a 40-mile area around where deer tested positive for the disease in order to try and eradicate the disease. Biologists estimated the pre-hunt population for the area was between 25,000 and 30,000 deer. Officials also planned and are carrying out the nation’s most comprehensive program to identify where in the state chronic wasting disease may be infecting the wild deer herd and to take steps to stop the disease from spreading.

More than 2,000 additional deer from the area of infection were tested for CWD between March and September 2002. Results from these collection efforts indicated that CWD appears to be localized to areas surrounding Mount Horeb in western Dane-eastern Iowa Counties and a small portion of southern Sauk County.

In addition, wildlife officials collected about another 34,000 samples from deer shot statewide for testing to see if CWD was present in the wild in other areas of the state. Nearly one-half of the agency’s staff were recruited to staff deer-head collection sites during the fall gun hunt. As of the end of 2002, 48 deer had tested positive for CWD out of 5,045 samples that had been tested. All of the positives came from the CWD eradication zone. No state samples have confirmed CWD in wild deer outside of the CWD eradication zone, although a private laboratory claimed to have found positive samples in Grant and Marathon counties from deer submitted by hunters using commercially available testing kits. Those tests have not been corroborated with federally approved testing methods.

DNR CWD Deer Farm Investigation

DNR wardens have been conducting an investigation of deer farms in Wisconsin since chronic wasting disease was discovered last fall on a central Wisconsin deer farm. By “tracing out” the movements and history of CWD-positive captive deer, wardens will help control the possible spread of the disease into the wild deer population. As part of the investigation, wardens have inspected nearly every one of the more than 600 deer farms in the state and have helped locate two additional CWD-positive captive deer.

Conservation wardens have identified three CWD positive deer from deer farms. Two of these deer were located inside deer farm enclosures, but one CWD positive deer (killed by wardens) was outside of any deer farm enclosure.

Wardens have destroyed ten deer roaming outside of a quarantined deer farm in an attempt to harvest a number of deer that escaped from the farm. The escaped deer have been roaming in the wild as far back as March 2002 and are a major concern as the deer were once contained inside a CWD positive farm and have co-mingled with at least one known CWD positive deer.