Editor’s Note: this is the first of eight bi-weekly columns in which the Department of Natural Resources Secretary will try to answer some of the many questions and concerns related to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Wisconsin. These questions are ones the public has been asking me and DNR field/front line staff.
Welcome to my first question and answer column on CWD, the fatal nervous system disease found in our local deer herd. The discovery of CWD last year in southwest Wisconsin sent shock waves throughout our state’s hunting community. We now face the most important challenge in the modern history of Wisconsin deer management. Population models predict that left alone, CWD infection rates in deer will climb, local deer populations will collapse in an ever widening area and the resulting impacts would be devastating on a conservation, economic and social level.
We know there are many unanswered questions and researchers are just beginning to gain a better understanding of CWD. But there are questions we can answer on a local, state and national basis, and I will address many of them over the coming weeks.
What are the Wisconsin’s CWD management goals?
Our goals are to minimize the impacts of CWD on the state’s deer herd, economy, hunters and landowners by:
Eradicating CWD in the known infected area of southwest Wisconsin. Limiting the spread of the disease from the known infected area. Continuing surveillance by testing deer for CWD. Using a “learn and adapt” approach by incorporating new scientific information into CWD management as it becomes available.
What were last year’s test results and what do they tell us?
Last fall and winter we completed the most intensive testing effort in the history of North American wildlife management. We sampled 41,245 deer statewide, a total greater than the deer harvest in many states and provinces. This would not have been possible without the tremendous cooperation of thousands of hunters, landowners, and surveillance volunteers throughout the state, as well as the dedicated efforts of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison.
CWD was only detected in a relatively small area of southwest Wisconsin. Our testing levels were high enough that if CWD was spread all across Wisconsin or another Mt. Horeb-scale infection existed, we should have found it. This is good news from a disease management perspective. Our best chance to control, and hopefully eradicate this disease comes with taking the needed actions right now, while the disease is limited to this portion of the state.
A total of 207 deer tested positive for CWD, with 201 deer found within the 411 square mile Disease Eradication Zone (DEZ) of western Dane, eastern Iowa and southern Sauk Counties, and six deer found nearby within the adjacent CWD Management Zone. While the overall average rate of positives was 1.64 percent, there are areas in the zone where we found infection rates of seven percent.
Why weren’t there any summer hunts this year?
Last year’s four summer hunts helped us better define the infected area and served as a training ground for our exhaustive statewide surveillance effort last fall. About 1,500 deer were removed during these hunts, but hunting in the summer was tough duty because of mosquitoes, limited visibility and hot weather.
This summer we are putting our energies into analyzing test results, making plans for disease monitoring this fall, and increasing our public outreach.
Will there be free landowner permits this year?
Yes. Landowners in the DEZ will be eligible to receive free permits that allows them or their agents, friends, neighbors, family etc., to hunt deer on their property without a license. Permit holders and their agents will need to meet the legal, age and hunter safety requirements for obtaining a hunting license in Wisconsin.
Earn-a-buck requirements will again be in place in the DEZ, so hunters must first shoot an antlerless deer before they can harvest a buck during the archery and gun seasons.
I know that some hunters are not enamored with the earn-a-buck system, but history shows that it is effective at significantly reducing deer populations in targeted deer management units.
This fall, to help reduce concerns about earn-a-buck regulations, we will give two free buck tags with each free landowner permit in the DEZ. These buck tags will allow the shooting of two bucks under the authority of the landowner permit without first having to shoot antlerless deer.
Our goal is to get the free CWD DEZ permits issued to interested landowners before the start of the archery season on Sept. 13. The Department will send a letter to landowners in the DEZ advising them on how to apply for the free landowner permits. With a landowner permit, deer can be harvested from private land in the DEZ on the following dates:
September 13 – October 29 (archery only) October 30 – January 3 (archery and firearm)
Why did the CWD Zones expand and what are hunting season dates for this fall?
The quick answer to this question is that the testing results from last fall required that updated boundaries be used for this year. There are three CWD Zones. I’ll try to explain how each works.
The DEZ is a landowner permit zone and extends 4.5 miles in each direction from each CWD positive deer detected. Within the DEZ, landowners are eligible for free permits, may shoot deer from tractors or other farm implements, and are eligible to receive two free buck tags with a landowner permit.
The Intensive Harvest Zone (IHZ) is a hunting season boundary that closely corresponds to the DEZ. This zone has the most liberal hunting regulations, including a longer season and allowing the use of rifles in shotgun areas.
The Herd Reduction Zone (HRZ) is another hunting season boundary and surrounds the IHZ. The seasons aren’t quite as long as in the IHZ and the purpose of the HRZ is to reduce deer populations low enough to slow the spread of the disease from the core area.
The hunting seasons for the IHZ and HRZ are:
CWD Intensive Harvest Zone
Archery: September 13-January 3 (Archers must wear blaze orange Oct. 30-Jan. 3) Gun: October 30-January 3
CWD Herd Reduction Zone
Archery: September 13-January 3 (Archers must wear blaze orange Oct. 30-Nov. 2 and Nov. 22-Jan. 3) Gun: October 30-November 2 November 22-January 3