Madison – Encouraged by the pace of testing thus far, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources official said Wednesday that samples from 36,000 deer could produce results on chronic wasting disease within three months.

State officials had been saying that hunters might have to wait up to six months or longer, but Tom Hauge, the DNR’s lead official on chronic wasting disease, said testing is moving faster than expected.

Meanwhile, the federal government has approved a new, so-called rapid test for chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer and elk, but Wisconsin officials say that they will stick with their testing regimen.

The federal Animal Plant Health Inspection Service has notified veterinary laboratories across the country that are testing for the fatal deer disease that it has approved a test by Bio-Rad Laboratories that the company says is much faster than technology that Wisconsin is using.

Bio-Rad says it can process samples in five hours, and has pointed to turnaround times of just a few weeks for hunters in Colorado.

State Sen. Kevin Shibilski (D-Stevens Point) urged the state Wednesday to switch to the new test.

However, the director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory says he has decided to stick with the tried-and-true technology. Robert Shull said his lab will process samples just about as quickly at about one-third of the cost.

“The Colorado situation is a very, very different situation,” Shull said.

The difference between Wisconsin and Colorado, he stressed, is not the test but the fact that the lab there is processing about 25,000 tests over four or five months while the brunt of Wisconsin’s 40,000 or more samples comes in over a nine-day period.

Testing has emerged as an important issue this hunting season. The DNR is using testing as a surveillance tool to discover where chronic wasting disease is located in the state. The fatal deer disease was discovered Feb. 28 and has been found in the wild within a 411-square-mile region of Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties.

A private lab in Milwaukee said this week that preliminary results shows that a 3-year-old buck in Grant County, in southwestern Wisconsin, also had the disease.

The DNR’s Hauge told members of the Natural Resources Board that the priority for deer samples from the 2002 hunting season, which ended on Sunday, will be:

Deer shot in the 10-county management zone that surrounds the 411-square-mile zone where the disease is known to exist. Suspect areas of the state, including Portage and Walworth counties, where the disease has turned up on game farms, and in border counties like Rock and Green that are close to where disease was found in a wild deer in northern Illinois this fall. The rest of Wisconsin. The 411-square-mile eradication zone. The nine-day gun season’s kill of 261,093 – down 10% from last year and the lowest since 1993 – will not help control Wisconsin’s deer population.

Hauge said that officials will mull options this winter but so-called Zone T seasons – extra hunting seasons where the population is 20% over its goal – are likely.