MADISON – Chronic wasting disease was only one of many reasons gun deer hunters chose to not hunt in 2002 according to a recently completed survey by the Department of Natural resources in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Survey Center.

The survey polled 2,100 gun deer hunters from all areas of the state. Names were selected at random from a list of gun deer license buyers from the 2001 license year. The survey has a confidence level of plus or minus 3 percent, according to the survey center.

The survey is the only one of its kind in the country at this time and is a unique look into the concerns hunters have over chronic wasting disease and how it affected their hunting efforts said Jordan Petchenik, the DNR sociologist who coordinated the study.

A majority of responding hunters (90 percent in non-CWD counties and 88 percent in CWD counties) said they hunted the same or more in 2002 than in past years. Of those hunters who chose not to hunt in 2002, 24 percent said they didn’t hunt because of lack of time or other responsibilities, with 22 percent saying they didn’t hunt because they were concerned about chronic wasting disease and venison safety.

Just one percent of the respondents listed a statewide ban on baiting and feeding as the most important reason they chose to not hunt in 2002.

“We’re certainly aware that there’s split opinion out there regarding a ban on baiting and feeding,” said Tom Hauge, director of the DNR wildlife management program. “We feel that banning these practices is in the long-term best interest of our whitetail herd and the science supports this. There’s going a period of adjustment if this ban is enacted but it’s our opinion and it’s the opinion of numerous wildlife biologists and veterinarians too, this is the right thing to do.”

The department will be holding a series of public hearings March 17-19 throughout the state to hear public comment on a proposal to ban baiting and feeding of deer. The hearings begin at 6 p.m. with an informal presentation; the formal public hearing begins at 7 p.m. An environmental impact statement that examines the impacts of baiting and feeding on animal health accompanies the rule proposal and is also up for comment at the hearings. Scientists say baiting and feeding can promote the spread of communicable diseases like CWD and bovine tuberculosis by unnaturally congregating deer.

Hunters also ranked other safety concerns above human health concerns associated with chronic wasting disease

When asked to respond to a list of perceived risks associated with gun deer hunting, 50 percent of hunters in the CWD counties and 47 percent in non-CWD counties indicated they were very or somewhat concerned over the risk of being accidentally shot by a member of another hunting party.

Thirty-eight percent of hunters in CWD counties and 35 percent in non-CWD counties, ranked concern of becoming ill from CWD virtually equal to concern over Lyme’s disease.

When asked specifically how they felt about eating venison, 36 percent of replying hunters in CWD counties indicated they had some concern over eating venison from a deer not tested for CWD, 11 percent from the same areas indicated concern if the deer tested negative for CWD.

Most hunters both in CWD counties and non-CWD counties favored taking some kind of action to manage CWD versus doing nothing.

In CWD counties, 45 percent of hunters favored removing all deer in the eradication zone, in non-CWD counties this climbed to 53 percent in favor or removing all deer.

Wildlife biologists and wildlife health experts from across the nation support reducing deer populations to as close to zero as possible in new CWD areas as a means of stopping the disease before it gets established. The department’s current proposal calls for a zero population goal in a CWD eradication zone with 5-deer per-square mile goal in an intensive harvest zone and a 10-deer-per-square-mile population goal in a herd reduction zone (currently known as the CWD management zone).

Reducing deer populations to less than established goals in the CWD management zone was favored by 42 percent of hunters in CWD counties and by 50 percent of hunters in non-CWD counties.

Only about one in three hunters (36 percent) in CWD counties preferred a “do nothing” approach to CWD management but this dropped to about one in four (27 percent) in non-CWD counties.

“This was one of the more in-depth hunter surveys we’ve attempted,” said Hauge. “Typical of hunters, we got a high return percentage on the survey of around 68 percent so we feel this is a pretty good indicator of opinion out there. But surveys aren’t the same as hearing comments face to face and I encourage folks to come to one of the CWD-EIS hearings around the state in March.”

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