Test results fuel optimism deer disease hasn’t spread 4 more deer test positive near illness’ focal point

With more than 80% of the planned deer tests completed outside a 10-county southwestern Wisconsin region, no wild deer in the rest of the state has shown signs of chronic wasting disease, state officials said Friday.

Each one of these batches adds a little more optimism to our outlook. – Bob Manwell,DNR spokesman

The test results from 17,525 deer outside the eradication and management zones prompted the state Department of Natural Resources to be cautiously optimistic Friday that the fatal deer disease will not be discovered outside the region.

“It’s very encouraging,” said Bob Manwell, spokesman for the DNR. “Each one of these batches adds a little more optimism to our outlook. But we can’t call the outcome yet.”

If the trend continues, the DNR will not have to try to attack the disease in other parts of the state. The DNR wants to wipe out all of the deer in a 411-square-mile eradication zone centered around Mount Horeb in western Dane County, where the disease was first discovered, and cut the population by 50% in the broader 10-county management zone.

All of the killing could take five or six years. So far, the efforts in some areas have been delayed by landowners who have refused to allow shooting on their property.

Wisconsin’s eradication initiative is the biggest in the country to control chronic wasting disease. The testing of nearly 40,000 deer is also the most comprehensive of any state.

Also on Friday, the DNR reported four new cases of the disease in the latest round of testing, including the first discovery in Sauk County.

The Sauk County deer was shot in January in a park in Sauk City near the Wisconsin River after a bystander alerted authorities that the deer looked sick. The DNR now plans to shoot additional deer in the surrounding area to look for more positives.

Wisconsin has discovered 62 wild deer with the disease so far: 33 in Dane County, 27 in Iowa County, one in Richland County and one in Sauk County.

Of that number, the DNR said 56 were shot in the eradication zone – meaning the disease has incidence rate of 1.9%. The other six were found in the 10-county management zone.

So far, the state has results on about two-thirds of the nearly 40,000 deer tissues being tested for the disease. About 97% of deer samples from the management zone have been tested. Most of the rest of the results will come from areas where the disease already exists.

Chronic wasting disease was first discovered in Wisconsin in three deer Feb. 28, 2002, from whitetails that were shot during the 2001 gun hunting season.

The findings were the first instances of the disease east of the Mississippi River. Since then, Illinois has had seven deer test positive in counties along the state line.

In Wisconsin, the findings cast a pall over the 2002 deer hunting season. By the start of the season, the sale of licenses had fallen by 11%. Among bowhunters, license sales dropped 19%.

Chronic wasting disease is believed to be caused by abnormal proteins that attack the brain and other organs and eventually kill the deer. Scientists have found similarities with mad cow disease, which has killed humans who have eaten diseased meat.

But medical experts have yet to find any link between eating venison and chronic wasting disease.