Editor’s Note: this is the last 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.

I would like to end this series on an optimistic and hopeful note. A variety of encouraging signs over the past few months give me great confidence that we are on the right track with what we are doing here in Wisconsin. I would like to highlight a few of those encouraging signs for you.

The gun deer season in the CWD Zones continues through Jan. 3 and there seemed to be a lot of hunting pressure during the traditional nine-day season. I certainly saw some nice animals come into the registration stations I worked at during the opening weekend. I was also encouraged by the cooperative and supportive attitude I encountered among the hunters I visited with those days. It appears that 75 percent of the animals being registered at one of our four DNR-staffed registration stations are being kept by hunters and that we are getting pretty good cooperation from folks who are letting us sample their adult deer for the disease.

We have issued landowner permits to half of the 6555 Disease Eradication Zone (DEZ) landowners eligible to receive the permits. And we have sampled over 9000 deer, analyzed over 2050 of those samples to date, and have identified 13 positive deer, all within the borders of the DEZ, including one in the small DEZ along the State Line in Rock County. The turn-around time for getting test results is much faster than last year, and with the introduction of a new test at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, the number of samples that can be completed in one week will be even greater.

In fact, I harvested a deer on Oct. 4 and received a postcard on Oct. 24 notifying me that the animal tested negative! Last year, it often took up to three months to report out test results.

I am very pleased and excited about the partnership that has been forged with Whitetails Unlimited to bring the reward program into reality this fall. The $400 reward for each positive deer removed during the hunting season recognizes the importance of cooperation between landowners and hunters by giving $200 to the hunter and $200 to landowner on whose land the positive deer was shot.

This past spring, a panel of experts from the fields of veterinary medicine, prion biology and wildlife management reviewed Wisconsin’s CWD management program. The review panel published its report (PDF) in mid-October and I’m very pleased with the results. Overall, we’ve been told that we’re right on track with our management efforts.

I’ve listed the key findings of the program review panel below:

  • The Wisconsin policy to attempt eradication of CWD from free-ranging and captive cervids is appropriate.
  • Failure to contain and eradicate CWD in its current location will result in the spread of CWD throughout Wisconsin’s white-tailed deer population.
  • The integrated, multi-agency approach to CWD eradication is commendable.
  • The emphasis on CWD research and adaptive management specific to the Wisconsin situation is critical.
  • The system developed for collection, transport, testing, and disposal of samples for CWD is impressive and has resulted in unprecedented data acquisition in a very short period of time.
  • Disposal of carcasses and heads is a significant management and resource issue for the state.
  • The combination of high densities of free-ranging white-tailed deer and a large dispersed captive cervid industry necessitates close coordination between managers and regulators of these entities.
  • Wisconsin is providing timely and accurate information to the public about CWD.
  • Public opposition to the DNR’s management plan, particularly by landowners in the affected area, represents a potentially significant obstacle to the successful eradication of CWD from the state.

The review panel report concludes that the DNR has taken appropriate measures consistent with current knowledge and utilizing the best scientific information available to manage CWD. We will take seriously the reviewer panel’s specific recommendations. Work already has begun on many of the key recommendations, and we will continue with our “learn and adapt” approach towards managing the disease.

It remains important as ever for landowners and hunters to work together to continue to reduce the deer herd during the remainder of the deer season in the CWD Management Zones. I remain committed to the goal of eradicating CWD from Wisconsin’s wild deer herd. I hope you will join me in that commitment. As Winston Churchill once said, “For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.”

That about does it. I’ve appreciated the chance to answer at least some of your questions over the past few months. Please keep asking those good questions, as they are critical to our “learn and adapt” approach to managing this disease. And thanks for listening!