MADISON , Wis. – As part of the department’s ongoing effort to control the spread of chronic wasting disease, conservation wardens across Wisconsin have begun a statewide inspection of all DNR-licensed whitetail deer farms.
The statewide inspection that began Tuesday was to have started several weeks ago, but the discovery of CWD in captive deer on a game farm in Portage County put that effort on hold. That discovery lead wardens and investigators from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to investigate the origin and movement history of that CWD-positive deer. Doing so would help investigators determine what other deer herds might be at risk for catching the disease through contact with that deer or others.
“Tuesday, our wardens began the statewide effort and have inspected 69 deer farms so far,” said Tom Harelson, Chief Conservation Warden. “Our goal is to inspect all 590 DNR-licensed deer farms in the state before the end of the year.”
At each location, wardens inspected the structural integrity of deer pen fences and attempted to visually inspect each deer to see if they appeared to be healthy. Some operations were also asked to provide records of deer sales and purchases.
“Generally, we’ve received good cooperation from deer farm owners so far and we anticipate that cooperation will continue,” Harelson said. “Everyone recognizes the importance of this investigation and what it means to help protect the state’s wild deer population and maintain the integrity of the captive deer herd. We’re grateful for the assistance we’ve received from the owners and operators of these farms.”
Teams consisting of at least two or more wardens are conducting the inspections. In some cases – on larger deer farm properties – additional wardens will be brought in to handle the bigger workload. Approximately 90 wardens participated in the inspections thus far.
“Many deer farmers owners were notified ahead of time that wardens would be inspecting their operations,” Harelson said. “The vast majority appreciated the advance notice and welcomed the wardens to conduct thorough inspections. No warrants have been needed to inspect any properties.”
As part of the earlier investigations that arose after the discovery of the CWD-positive whitetail deer in Portage County, wardens obtained and served search warrants at three separate deer farms.
“A warrant is a pretty standard legal tool in any law enforcement investigation,” Harelson said. “The document actually helps protect the Constitutional rights of the person being investigated by ensuring that only a limited search can take place.”
“Some may view this as a violation of their rights, when in truth, it’s exactly the opposite,” Harelson added.
According to Harelson, it will take several weeks to complete the statewide inspection.