Wisconsin is entering its fourth year of Chronic Wasting Disease management. During the first three years of the CWD control program, extensive testing was conducted across the state to investigate the distribution and prevalence of the disease. We have made significant progress toward reducing the free-ranging deer population in the affected areas, banned the baiting and feeding of deer in these areas to reduce transmission, and have started tracking and controlling CWD in Wisconsin’s farmed cervids.
It is currently not possible to predict whether Wisconsin’s CWD management program will be successful in eradicating CWD from the state. However, the consequences of not attempting to control the disease or an inadequate response are clear: the prevalence and geographic distribution of CWD will increase as will the impacts on the deer hunting culture of Wisconsin and related industries and businesses.
Statewide surveys continue to show that 70 to 80 percent of Wisconsin hunters think CWD should be eliminated from the wild deer herd, but that doesn’t mean that 70 to 80 percent are in lock step with how we are going about it. We have to continue to learn and adapt.
Our approach to managing CWD has been and continues to be herd reduction for disease control. As we learn more about the disease and interact with the public, we continue to modify the hunting rules to achieve our disease control objectives and maintain the support of hunters and landowners.
The details of the CWD seasons for 2005 are finalized and are in the fall regulations pamphlet, which is available online, in DNR service centers and at license vendors. Disease eradication zone hunters should note that there is a five-day break in the deer gun season in the DEZ this year, with no firearm hunting from Nov. 14-18.
All but 23 days of the archery and gun seasons will be either-sex in the CWD zones. Hunters will have to follow Earn-a-Buck regulations from Oct. 27 – Nov. 18. By offering a season that goes from either-sex, to earn-a-buck, to either-sex, we are trying to balance hunter interest in lifting the restrictions that EAB imposes with our desire to continue a high antlerless harvest. We have been able to achieve high antlerless harvest rates over the past three years with the Earn-a-buck regulation in the CWD Zones, and shooting lots of antlerless deer reduces the reproductive ability of the herd, thus reducing the deer population.
We have also observed that disease prevalence is higher in older age bucks. Since an Earn-a-Buck season has the effect of saving bucks, we wondered whether we could come up with a season that would hopefully maintain the harvest pressure on antlerless deer while increasing the harvest pressure on bucks.
This year, landowners in the DEZ and hunters they designate will again be able to hunt the DEZ without buying a regular deer hunting license by requesting a DEZ landowner’s permit. These permits are available from any license vendor beginning Sept. 1. Hunters will again be able to donate DEZ deer to a food pantry program.
Of the 75,000 deer tested for chronic wasting disease since 2002, 471 have tested CWD-positive. Analysis of the geographic distribution of the southwest Wisconsin outbreak showed that the pattern of positives is not random, but is tightly clustered. More than 80 percent of the positive deer are in a 126 square mile area bounded by Spring Green, Mazomanie, Black Earth, Mount Horeb, and Ridgeway. Within the cluster’s core, high-prevalence area, prevalence among adult deer was similar in 2002, 2003, and 2004, approximately 5 percent. Within the center of the core area a few sections had prevalence of 8 to 12 percent. This fall we will begin another round of statewide CWD testing, beginning in the northeast part of the state.