MADISON – A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists, representing a range of scientific disciplines, is lending broad support to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plan to contain the outbreak of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Wisconsin.
In addition, the group, with the support of UW-Madison Chancellor John D. Wiley, is recommending that a formalized CWD advisory council – composed of scientists and other experts of national stature – be convened to help tackle the difficult issues posed by the disease and make recommendations that could be acted on by the state.
“There is no question that, from a scientific perspective, chronic wasting disease in deer poses a threat not only to animal and, potentially human, health, but to the economy, the environment and social traditions of Wisconsin,” Wiley said. “The disease needs to be quickly stamped out and the plan put in place by the DNR, so far, represents our best hope of eradicating CWD from our state.”
Wiley added the university’s voice to the chorus encouraging hunters to take to the woods next month and help in the effort to try to rid the state of a disease that could have disastrous consequences if not controlled. “The community of hunters is our best hope of solving this problem and helping maintain the state’s deer herd at a level that will minimize the chances of the spread of CWD, as well as the possibility of new outbreaks of disease,” he said.
In a news conference Monday (Oct. 14), Wiley outlined a series of recommendations made by faculty and staff, including several who have been working solely on the disease and related issues since it was first announced that CWD had been found in some deer in south-central Wisconsin. Primary among those recommendations is that the best hope of eliminating the disease from the state lies in an aggressive effort to take as many deer as possible as quickly as possible from the area where the disease has been found.
“Our conclusions, quite simply, lead us to the imperative for immediate, decisive action to eliminate CWD from the area in which it has appeared in south-central Wisconsin,” Wiley said. “Failure to do so invites certain spread of the disease and a significant risk of serious, unpredictable economic and ecological consequences for the state.”
The establishment of a formalized panel of scientific and other experts, Wiley explained, will provide a viable mechanism to address the range of issues associated with the disease. He said the purpose of such a panel would not be to duplicate the efforts already under way in state government but, instead, could be a source of valuable information and ideas that could aid state leaders and agencies as they wrestle with an incredibly difficult and multifaceted problem.
Among the problems that could be addressed by a CWD advisory council are:
* Assessment of additional means, beyond those already proposed, to remove deer from the intensive harvest and management zones.
* A more precise assessment of the dispersal rate of deer and the association of that dispersal rate with the spread of CWD.
* Exploring the feasibility of private testing, provided that the testing is reportable and done in accordance with standardized and accepted scientific protocols, and is overseen by the appropriate regulatory authorities.
* Issues of human and animal health.
* Potential next steps if efforts now under way to control CWD fail. The potential ecological, agricultural, economic and social impacts of failing to contain and, ultimately, eliminate CWD from Wisconsin are complex and unknown.
* The implications of the emergence of CWD on overall deer management.
* Aspects of deer management that might affect the likelihood of similar disease outbreaks.
* Methods for safe, cost-effective disposal of infected or potentially infected deer.
* Food safety.
In addition to recommending the establishment of a CWD advisory council, Wiley said there was strong consensus among campus experts that the state should act now to curtail the transfer of deer between game farms in Wisconsin.
“Humans moving deer by truck can transport CWD farther and faster than deer moving on their own ever could. Wisconsin game farms should also be required to test animals and report all results to the state,” Wiley said.
The absence of such testing and reporting requirements, and the movement of animals among game farms, he said, is a notable gap in an expensive and difficult effort at surveillance and control, and should be closed as soon as possible and until a viable live test for the disease is developed.
Wiley said CWD has the potential to become a much bigger crisis if not brought under control, and that the university has a responsibility to be involved in the process of finding solutions to the many problems posed by the disease.
“There is a tradition here of not ducking tough issues,” Wiley said. “The citizens of Wisconsin expect us to be involved when problems like this arise. There are no easy solutions, but we think we can make a contribution to the state’s efforts to combat this disease.”