This could be one of the more important deer hunting seasons in Indiana’s history.
The Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Animal Health are looking for something it doesn’t want to find — chronic wasting disease in wild deer herds.
Wisconsin found the incurable and deadly disease in three bucks this year when it tested tissue samples from wild deer.
It was the first time it was found east of the Mississippi.
Wisconsin’s DNR zeroed in on the area where the bucks were killed and found 15 more infected deer among the 500-plus deer it killed for testing.
The infected deer were within 13 miles of each other. Wisconsin officials chose to kill an entire deer herd to keep the disease from spreading across the state.
There were 25,000 deer in the herd. The slaughter will continue if more diseased deer are found.
Wisconsin is already feeling the effect.
In a Field & Stream story, critics of the deer kill-off say tourism, hunting revenues and rural real estate prices are suffering.
The Wisconsin DNR says it feels the pain, too. The department reported 30 percent of the hunters say they will not hunt in areas where diseased deer are found.
A 5 percent loss in hunting license sales results in a $1 million loss of revenue for the department.
Indiana officials reacted immediately to the Wisconsin crisis. A ban has been put on deer and elk imported into the state, and the state began testing deer killed when early archery season opened Oct. 1.
The plan is to test 3,000 deer at random. These deer will come from those killed by hunters who let biologists take tissue samples at deer check stations.
DNR spokesman Steve Sellers said this week that 1,100 deer heads have been collected from across the state.
Testing continued Saturday when firearms season opened.
“The basic deal is that they (Purdue University) will test the first 1,000 of the 3,000 specimens collected. If no problem (wasting disease) is found in the first 1,000, then there will be enough confidence that we will not need the additional 2,000 tested,” Sellers said.
The problem is a serious one.
According to Tom Hague, Wisconsin DNR wildlife director, his state ordered the kill of 25,000 deer after seeing a Colorado report that chronic wasting disease, if left unchecked, could wipe out a state’s entire deer herd in 60 to 100 years.
Indiana’s ban on imports runs through May.