ANTIGO, Wis. – Northern Wisconsin’s deer herd has been given a clean bill of health. After testing more than 8,700 tissue samples from deer in 18 northern Wisconsin counties, biologists found no signs of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) or Tuberculosis (TB).
The Department of Natural Resources exceeded its goal to have 8,000 samples from across the north thanks to cooperation from hunters, said Mike Zeckmeister, DNR Northern Region wildlife supervisor.
The DNR conducts periodic heath checks as a defense against serious disease risks. Being proactive is always better than being reactive when it comes to wildlife disease management, Zeckmeister explained. He added that having a clean bill of health provides more justification to do everything possible to keep the deer herd in northern Wisconsin free of these serious diseases.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “we are still taking risks with the health of our deer herd by feeding and baiting deer in Wisconsin.”
Wildlife officials say the risk of spreading infections increases especially where deer are artificially concentrated. Infectious CWD prions and TB bacteria have been isolated from deer saliva. Baiting and feeding sites foster conditions for disease transfer through increased deer to deer contact and increased group size at feeding sites. TB spreads from captive or domestic animals to wild deer and vice-versa. Minnesota and Michigan have confirmed TB in cattle and wild deer.
Periodically deer and elk escape from captive facilities. Routine testing found CWD in two captive facilities in fall of 2008 and resulted in the depopulation of both herds. Continued surveillance for CWD and TB in both wild and captive deer is critical to insure the health of Wisconsin’s deer herd.
“Any drop in the state’s TB-free status will lead to $1.87 million annually in testing costs alone for farmers in order to continue to export cattle, not to mention the costs of euthanizing herds, carcass disposal, property disinfections, and risking consumer confidence and Wisconsin’s status as America’s Dairyland,” Zeckmeister said. In Michigan, the projected cost to producers over a 10 year period is $121 million.
The DNR deer health surveillance program began in January of 2007 when wildlife and other DNR staff took tissue samples from road kill deer. The lymph nodes in the neck of the animal were taken from adult deer and analyzed for CWD and other diseases. The entire deer hunting community also participated in the check.
“I want to thank all the hunters, meat processors, taxidermists, students and department staff that brought deer in for sampling” the wildlife supervisor said, “all of you were key to this project.”