Staving off the pressures of politicians and citizens, the state Natural Resources Board voted last week in the interest of animal health. But in doing so, the board gave the Department of Natural Resources more work and a tougher challenge as it tries to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease among the state’s deer.
Not that this is a bad thing. But if the board is going to make the DNR’s job tougher, it also needs to apply some pressure on the Legislature to make sure lawmakers give the DNR the tools it needs to do the job. Among those tools should be the authority under specific circumstances to pay hunters a bounty for killing deer.
The two most significant measures approved by the board last week probably were the retention of a statewide ban on the feeding and baiting of deer and the doubling in size of the so-called eradication zone in southwestern Wisconsin, where the DNR hopes to wipe out the herd.
The former was approved in the teeth of opposition from people who argue that the ban is bad for the feed business, for some hunters and for folks who like to set out a bit of feed to deer-watch. Some also disagree that chronic wasting disease is spread through deer-to-deer contact.
But right now, too much about this disease remains a mystery, and deer-to-deer contact seems like a good bet for how it is spread. Until it’s shown that such contact isn’t responsible, retaining the ban on feeding and baiting is a reasonable precaution even if it is temporarily bad for some businesses.
Furthermore, the pieces of the puzzle that are coming together haven’t been pretty. Last week, one researcher told the board that female white-tailed deer ranged farther than once thought, which means the disease could be spread farther – and faster – than once thought.
Other research suggests that nearly all the white-tailed deer in Wisconsin are susceptible to the disease, which means that letting it run its course, as some have argued, is not a particularly good option. The news on chronic wasting disease is getting worse, not better.
As to the broadening of the eradication zone, that, too, makes sense – if the DNR is given the tools to kill the deer. Infected deer have been found outside the zone; if thinning the herd slows the spread of the disease, then the eradication zone has to be expanded to where the disease has been found. That’s simple logic. The question, as board Chairman Trygve Solberg of Minocqua correctly pointed out, is how to get it done. We don’t agree with Solberg that the plan is “not doable,” but it certainly isn’t going to be easy.
One way is to once again extend the hunting season, which the board agreed to do. Another is to allow the DNR to use airplanes to shoot or herd deer into the eradication zone, something else the board approved last week. But one more tool should be bounties, which the DNR is considering and for which it would need approval from the Legislature.
Legislators who are eager to interfere with the DNR when it comes to baiting and feeding – and who may try to do just that later this spring – should reconsider and instead do something that actually could fight the spread of chronic wasting disease. Lifting the ban won’t do that; bounties would.
Last week, the Natural Resources Board put animal health above politics. Now, it’s up to the Legislature to do the same.