DODGEVILLE, Wis. – Thirteen months after chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first discovered in southwest Wisconsin, the first year of shooting and collecting deer ended quietly on Monday, March 31. Collecting deer in the 411 square mile CWD Eradication Zone began in March 2002, after three white-tailed deer shot in the Mt. Horeb area of Dane County tested positive for the always fatal brain disease.

“It’s been a long haul, especially for landowners in the CWD Eradication Zone,” noted Carl Batha, who directed Department of Natural Resources’ field operations over the course of the last year.

The CWD Eradication Zone is located in eastern Iowa-western Dane Counties and a small portion of Sauk County. It is an area where biologists hope to reduce the herd as much as possible to contain and possibly eliminate the disease.

Four week-long summer hunts in June, July, August and September of 2002, followed by a gun season that ran from Oct. 24, 2002 to Jan. 31, 2003 were held as part of the depopulation effort.

Extended seasons, a ban on baiting and feeding deer, earn-a-buck requirements and targeted surveillance were all par of the effort to control CWD, some of which were adopted by the state Natural Resources Board in June 2002 as emergency rules. The board will decide April 23 whether or not to adopt some of these same measures under permanent rules the DNR proposed for controlling the disease.

Wildlife officials decided to allow landowners in the Eradication Zone, augmented by government shooters, to kill deer over bait piles from mid February of this year running through March 31 as part of deer reduction and to provide additional deer for testing.

Shooting over bait was one of the population reduction strategies recommended by area landowners in a series of public listening sessions held last October.

Preliminary records for the summer, fall and winter seasons indicate that hunters removed 9,287 deer from the Eradication Zone. Based on a revised aerial population survey conducted in late winter, biologists believe that could be as much as 40 percent of the of the fall 2002 population in the zone.

CWD Eradication Zone

Landowners and government shooters killed 666 deer in the Eradication Zone from Feb. 13 through March 31. DNR staff assisted landowners and hunters by issuing more than 1,780 harvest permits, established and maintained 305 bait sites (283 on private land) and picked-up 177 deer carcasses from landowners.

Altogether, landowners registered 317 deer and government shooters killed 349 deer for a total of 666 animals removed from the landscape in what was dubbed the field operation ‘Winter Campaign’ in the CWD Eradication Zone.

“We had hoped to shoot more deer, but there were several factors that worked against us, most noticeably a lack of snow during most of February and March,” said Tom Howard, DNR wildlife supervisor based at Dodgeville.

Howard also pointed out that deer in the Eradication Zone were extremely wary and nocturnal after being hunted for over a year.

“We learned that shooting deer over bait in a rural setting, where deer have been heavily hunted, is totally different, and much more difficult, than shooting over bait in the more controlled and common urban (setting),” Howard added.

DNR focused its shooting in areas where there was a high probability of removing CWD-positive animals from the deer population in the Eradication Zone.

“Of course we would have hoped to remove more deer, but it wasn’t for lack of an incredible amount of effort and cooperation put forth by area landowners and agency staff,” said Batha.

CWD Management Zone

DNR conservation wardens, in conjunction with landowners, conducted a “targeted surveillance” from mid-February to mid-March in the CWD Management Zone where six CWD-positive deer were found in three Iowa County towns, one Richland County town, and in the Sauk City/Prairie du Sac area of Sauk and Dane Counties.

Wardens killed 135 deer and landowners registered 25 deer from six, nine-section areas in the Iowa County Towns of Dodgeville, Highland and Wyoming, the Richland County Town of Orion, the Dane County Town of Roxbury, and the Sauk County Town of Prairie du Sac.

Coupled with deer submitted for testing during the fall hunting seasons, 359 deer were sampled for CWD from the six positive sections in the Management Zone.

Rock County Targeted Surveillance

DNR wardens collected 53 deer from the five Rock County towns along the State Line with Illinois after that state identified seven CWD-positive deer in three northern Illinois counties, five of which were shot within 20 miles of the Wisconsin border.

“We are very concerned about the (CWD) infection rate in northern Illinois,” Batha said in reference to collecting and testing deer in the State Line area.

DNR’s goal was to shoot 10 deer from the Rock County Towns of Avon, Beloit, Clinton, Newark and Turtle. In addition, Beloit police shot 11 deer from within that border city’s boundaries, situated just north of the State Line.