Madison – Two years after chronic wasting disease was discovered in three wild white-tailed deer near Mount Horeb, the deadly ailment has been found in several more areas and grown to several hundred diseased deer.
Which is why the Natural Resources Board on Wednesday stretched the boundaries of the zones where officials are trying to reduce most, if not all, of the deer herd across much of the southern quarter of the state.
A plan adopted by the board adds all of Rock and Walworth counties plus about half of Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha and Jefferson counties to the chronic wasting disease zones.
To contain the spread of the disease, the state Department of Natural Resources wants to kill as many deer in areas where animals have tested positive for the disease as well as a buffer zone around those areas because deer, especially young bucks, tend to roam and may infect others.
In the eradication zones surrounding hot spots where numerous chronic wasting disease cases have been found, the DNR hopes to reduce the deer population to fewer than five animals per square mile. In the larger intensive harvest zones, the goal is 10 to 15 deer per square mile.
The DNR will continue to use sharpshooters and traps in urban areas of southeastern Wisconsin. But the agency will also need the help of hunters and landowners to cull the deer herd, said Bill Vander Zouwen, DNR section chief for wildlife ecology.
During public hearings last month in communities inside the zones, more than 400 residents and hunters turned out to give their opinions on increasing the chronic wasting disease zones. The response was “generally disappointment because now they’re part of this control plan because now they’ve got chronic wasting disease,” Vander Zouwen said.
Anthony Grabski, a hunter and landowner from Blue Mounds, criticized the DNR’s methods. Urging the board to stop efforts to drastically reduce the deer population, Grabski said Wisconsin’s culture of hunting is at risk.
“We are hunters, not merely killers or disease-control mechanisms,” said Grabski.
While Grabski said he and other hunters and landowners support reasonable reductions in the deer herd during the state’s traditional deer hunting seasons, he said the DNR should switch to a more passive approach to combat the disease.
“This panic-driven eradication program is not killing more deer. Instead it has created the image of deer as vermin and venison as toxic waste and has cost the state over $16 million” in eradication efforts, Grabski said.
But Vander Zouwen said the state’s efforts are necessary to make sure the state’s wild deer herd doesn’t collapse. He pointed to a similar effort out west where authorities moved quickly to contain a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak and the deer herd eventually bounced back.
“All hope is not lost. It’s way too early to give up on this,” said Vander Zouwen.
Board member Howard Poulson pointed out that no one wanted to see chronic wasting disease pop up in Wisconsin – the first state east of the Mississippi to find the disease in its wild deer population – but the state has to deal with it.
“We must fight it,” said Poulson. “It still has to be – how do we get to the end result? How do we get a safe herd?”
Hunting seasons are expanded in the chronic wasting disease zones. Archery season opens in mid-September, and a four-day firearms hunt is held in late October, just like in the rest of the state. However, in the chronic wasting disease zones, hunters can shoot bucks if they have already shot a doe, through an earn-a-buck program, as opposed to antlerless deer only in Zone T hunts in the rest of the state in late October.
After the traditional nine-day firearms season, which starts the weekend before Thanksgiving, hunters can continue to use firearms to hunt deer in chronic wasting disease zones until early January.
Also under the plan approved by the board Wednesday:
Hunters who do not give the DNR a sample of their deer at a registration station could be issued a ticket and fined. Until now the agency has asked for volunteers to give their deer heads for testing for the disease, but hunters in some counties have refused, which has prevented the agency from getting sufficient test results throughout the state.
The late archery season will be extended to Jan. 3 in state parks that have hunting seasons in the chronic wasting disease zones.