Preliminary test shows ill deer at shooting preserve near Ashland

A white-tailed deer from a shooting preserve in northern Wisconsin has tested positive on a screening test for chronic wasting disease – a discovery that has the potential to bring the disease to a new part of the state.

Complicating the situation: An inspection of the fence at the 900-acre preserve in late October showed signs of damage, raising the possibility that deer could have escaped from the facility, a Department of Natural Resources official said Friday.

“The test and the fence issues certainly are a concern to the DNR,” said Davin Lopez, chronic wasting disease coordinator for the agency.

The CWD-positive result was first identified in a test at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Tissue samples from the deer, reportedly a 3-year-old buck on a shooting preserve near Ashland in Bayfield County, have been sent to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

“We want to make sure it’s not a false positive before making any formal announcements,” said Lee Sensenbrenner, spokesman for the agriculture department.

The Ames lab at Iowa State University runs the “gold standard” test for CWD

Final results will not be known until Wednesday or later, said another agriculture spokeswoman, Donna Gilson.

Pending confirmation, the department declined to release the name of the shooting preserve.

If confirmed, the finding would be the first CWD-positive deer in northern Wisconsin. The fatal deer disease has been found in wild deer in a 1,000-square-mile Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone in southern Wisconsin as well as game farms in other parts of the state. Two facilities in Portage County, one in Crawford County and another in Manitowoc County have had positive reports of CWD outside the state’s disease management zone.

The disease was first discovered in Wisconsin in 2002.

“Not good,” said Mike Riggle, a veterinarian, hunter and Wisconsin Conservation Congress member from Medford, of the latest development. “Everybody has been holding their breath for the last eight years.”

“Folks in the north had thought that this isn’t our problem,” said Riggle, who also serves as chairman of the CWD Committee of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. “Now, boom, it is our problem.”

Riggle said the likelihood of a false-positive was “very, very remote.”

The buck was tested as part of a protocol on deer farms in the state. The state agriculture department has authority over deer farms in Wisconsin.

The DNR has begun contingency planning, said Tom Hauge, wildlife chief, including possibly increased testing of wild deer in the area.

Deer shot in the area during this year’s hunting season will be tested for the disease.

Previous testing of over 1,000 wild deer in the Ashland area had turned up no CWD-positives, according to the DNR.

Though fatal to deer and elk, CWD has shown no link to human health or livestock.

Also, a positive test doesn’t necessarily expose wild deer in the area to the disease.

A game farm near Almond in Portage County produced 82 infected deer. Most were killed in 2006, and the rash of positives represented the highest infection rate ever reported in the United States, the DNR said.

Before the shooting, officials discovered that a hole had been cut in the fence and that the captive bucks – about 30 – had escaped and were never found.

But state records show that analyses of 2,559 wild deer from Portage and Waushara counties have shown no signs of the disease.