DNR board members: Use softer CWD terminology or deer hunters may go elsewhere

(Photo by Bill Diers)

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin DNR board members pressured agency leaders recently to use softer terminology to describe counties affected by chronic wasting disease, saying the current wording paints such a dire picture that deer hunters might go elsewhere.

The DNR’s website currently notes 47 of the state’s 72 counties are affected by the disease. The term “affected” means the county has either had a deer test positive for the disease at some point or lies within 10 miles of another county that has seen a positive.

The designation is important because baiting and feeding deer is restricted in affected counties. In counties with a positive test, the practice is banned for three years; in counties within 10 miles it’s banned for two years. Hunters who kill deer in affected counties can move the carcasses only within that county or to an adjacent affected county.

Board member Greg Kazmierski complained to DNR Wildlife Health Section Chief Tami Ryan during a meeting that the word “affected” can be easily mistaken for “infected.” He said hunters will look at a map of affected counties, mistakenly assume most of the state is infected and plan their outings in other states.

“That message has to get clearer,” he said.

He said the agency should call counties within 10 miles of an infection “watch counties.” The agency also should shift to reporting only currently affected counties rather than continuing to list counties that may have been designated as affected years ago but are clear now.

“If we keep this up the whole state will be red,” board member Fred Prehn said.

Ryan agreed to shift to reporting only up-to-date affected counties, perhaps on an annual basis, but said outside the meeting that the terminology change could require the DNR to rewrite its regulations.

CWD, a fatal brain disease, was discovered in Wisconsin in 2002. Data Ryan presented to the board showed about 6 percent of 9,685 deer tested over the last year were infected.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration focused largely on tracking infections and studying the ailment. The DNR revised its five-year plan for dealing with the disease in 2017, but most of the changes were modest and call for improving communication with the public on carcass movement restrictions and continuing monitoring.

Ryan told the board that the agency has implemented 46 of the 62 revisions so far and 36 are underway. Seven ideas won’t be implemented. The agency would need the Legislature to approve most of those suggestions, including implementing a statewide baiting and feeding ban, increasing penalties for illegal baiting and requiring deer farms to have insurance covering costs of escapes, she said.

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