MADISON – 2006 testing by the state Department of Natural Resources showed that Chronic Wasting Disease in Wisconsin’s deer herd has not spread beyond the known infection area. In addition, the agency reduced the time hunters had to wait for CWD testing on their deer to the lowest in the five years since the program started.

The findings were announced in a report updating lawmakers on a Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) report produced last year on chronic wasting disease (CWD).

“This report shows that there’s a lot going right in our fight to control CWD in Wisconsin.” said Sec. Scott Hassett. “Wisconsin’s aggressive approach to controlling CWD is aimed at one thing: having a healthy deer herd to protect our hunting heritage and our $1 billion deer hunting industry,” he said.

Among findings reported to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee in a required April 15th update, DNR noted:

  • Surveillance testing outside the CWD infection zones continues to confirm the disease is contained in a known area of South Central Wisconsin;
  • Time required to test hunter-killed deer for the disease fell to 29 days, the lowest in five years and down from a high of 96 days in 2002;
  • State sharpshooting in targeted areas within the chronic wasting disease (CWD) zones of southern Wisconsin is an efficient and effective tool in reducing deer numbers and removing diseased deer;
  • The agency is planning a statewide, comprehensive effort to involve the public in developing on-going strategies and policies for dealing with the disease; and
  • DNR is committed to keeping CWD testing and disposal costs as low as possible.

The DNR report to the LAB highlights the following:

Test Results Turnaround Time – Test turn around times were shortened in 2006 at least in part due to a partnership with the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (WVDL), the UW-connected facility that performs CWD testing, and where the DNR provided staff to help trim tissue during high volume periods. Test result notification to hunters from the CWD Zones took an average of 29 days in 2006, as compared to 96 days in 2002, according to the report.

Changes in hunting rules – DNR shortened the CWD hunting seasons, adopted either-sex regulations in 2006 and dropped Earn-a Buck (EAB) in response to hunter contention that such steps would concentrate hunter effort and increase the deer kill. Despite these rule changes, the report notes that, “last year’s experience suggests that another either-sex season will result in an antlerless deer harvest that is inadequate for herd reduction in CWD zones and means are return to EAB in 2007.” The total Disease Eradication Zone (DEZ) harvest was down 18 percent in 2006, with no change in the buck kill and a 28 percent decrease in antlerless deer kill. The report also notes that the much larger Herd Reduction Zone (HRZ) harvest was down five percent with no change in the buck kill and it saw a 23 percent reduction in the antlerless deer kill.

Sharpshooting – DNR sharpshooters removed 987 white-tailed deer and, to date, killed 23 positive deer in the CWD Zones. DNR did not have all test results back in time for filing this report. While state sharp shooting accounted for 1.7 percent of the total deer kill in the CWD zones, that effort removed 12.5 percent of the animals that tested positive for the disease.

Change in the Spread of CWD – DNR tested over 7500 deer in the agency’s West Central Region and another 1800 deer in southern and southeast Wisconsin outside of the CWD zones in 2006. DNR has sampled over 38,000 deer outside the CWD zones since 2002, including the Northeast Region in 2005, and will wrap up its second round of statewide testing when sampling is completed in its Northern Region in 2007. To date the disease has been found in free ranging deer only in the known CWD zones.

Improving Communication with Hunters – DNR has plans to embark on a statewide dialogue about its future CWD management approach in Wisconsin and to engage the citizens of Wisconsin in an informed public dialogue about the importance of CWD management. A report to the state Natural Resources Board on those plans is expected later this month.

CWD-related costs – Half of the costs of CWD management in the state are a result of testing. DNR is looking to save money in testing costs in 2008 and 2009 because it will have completed statewide re-sampling and will not begin a new sweep until 2010.