Wildlife managers at the state Department of Natural Resources are recommending that landowners be allowed to use bait to attract and kill more deer in the eradication zone near Mount Horeb.
The use of bait, usually corn, for hunting deer was outlawed last year to help fight the spread of chronic wasting disease, the fatal brain disease found in the state’s white-tail herd last February. Biologists believe the disease is spread by animal-to-animal contact and baiting causes deer to gather.
Tom Hauge, head of the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, said Thursday that as many as 12,000 more deer still need to be killed in the eradication zone, the 411-square-mile area where the DNR hopes to contain CWD. If landowners are allowed to use bait to attract deer, they will be able to kill more animals, Hauge said. He added that controlling the spread of the disease in the zone isn’t an issue because the disease is already there and the plan is to kill all the deer in that area.
The recommendation will be made next week to the Natural Resources Board, which is holding a special teleconference meeting on Tuesday. Hauge said staffers will also recommend that landowners in the eradication zone be allowed to hunt or to have others hunt on their property through the end of March. A special season in the zone is scheduled to end Jan. 31.
Hauge added that the DNR will probably offer curbside pickup of deer carcasses to encourage landowners to kill more animals.
Government sharpshooters are expected to be used in the eradication zone beginning in March.
Despite the longer hunting season and relaxed regulations, hunters have killed only 8,000 deer in the eradication zone, according to Hauge. He said that just about equals the number of fawns born in the area last fall and is not enough animals to stem growth of the herd.
“Next year’s fawn crop would bring us right back up to where we were,” Hauge said.
The ultimate goal is to kill all the deer in the eradication zone – as many as 25,000 deer, according to the DNR’s estimate. That is expected to take as many as five years. But Hauge said the more immediate goal is to trim the herd so that all the gains made this fall and winter won’t be lost. He said he would be pleased to see another 10,000 to 12,000 deer killed yet this winter.
The recommendations on how to kill more deer came from several town hall meetings held in the area last fall by the DNR. While many residents at those meetings suggested bounties to encourage more hunting, Hauge said, the use of such payments would be too expensive and a source for bounty money has not been identified.
“This doesn’t mean the department is averse to the idea,” Hauge added.
Hauge said the use of bait in the eradication zone, if approved by the board, would be regulated by amendments to permits already held by landowners. He said the agency wants to make sure it knows where bait piles are and that bait is not left unattended.