Mass deer reduction possible in CWD area

Editor

Madison Longer seasons, liberal hunting regulations and possibly
even aerial shooting of deer are some of the tools being considered
to reduce deer numbers in the area of south-central Wisconsin where
chronic wasting disease (CWD) was discovered in late February.

As each day passes in this CWD battle, state officials are
leaning more toward the thought that deer numbers have to come down
sharply if there is any hope to slow the spread of this
disease.

“The best advice we’ve received to date has us looking to reduce
the deer population to reduce the chance for CWD transmission from
deer to deer,” said Tom Hauge, DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management
director. “Unit 70A has a healthy deer population and has been
regularly in Zone T seasons. Reducing the population is likely to
be a challenge. What has started to happen, and I think will crank
up more in next six weeks, are more thorough discussions on what
strategies we need to think about to reduce populations.”

The subject of aerial shooting by state or federal employees
came up during the Wisconsin Deer and Turkey Expo in Madison as DNR
officials offered CWD updates to show-goers during impromptu
seminars organized by the DNR and show organizer Glenn
Helgeland.

“Aerial shooting falls under the category of trying to cover all
bases. We’re not announcing that we’re going there, but we would
have to take advantage of waning moments of this legislative
session should we find out we have to go there. It has been used
out West to collect deer in a hurry and to reduce the deer herd in
a hurry. We want to keep that available to us,” Hauge said.

More on the front burner are thoughts on longer deer seasons in
Unit 70A, and the seven units that surround Unit 70A.

“If we look at the fact that Unit 70A has been a regular Zone T
participant, with free tags, and we still have had a tough time
getting it near goals, we would have to consider the possibility
for even longer season to get numbers down,” Hauge said. “Maybe the
advent of CWD changes the climate within which herd control can
occur.

“We’ve had tremendous support from landowners in collecting the
500 deer for testing. Maybe with landowners’ concern on future
impact on the herd, maybe we would take record numbers of deer in a
standard Zone T format. We just don’t know. We’re simply suggesting
we need to look at whole season structure, and bag limits.”

That discussion resumes on Wednesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. when the
DNR again meets with citizens at the Mount Horeb High School. The
DNR will host five additional public meetings across the state next
month to answer questions on CWD. All begin at 7 p.m. The dates and
locations are as follows: May 8: Eau Claire Memorial High School in
Eau Claire; May 14: Rhinelander High School in Rhinelander; May 15:
Waukesha County Expo Center Arena in Waukesha; May 16: Southwest
High School Auditorium in Green Bay.

“We’re also starting to meet with small groups of landowners and
hunters to get a dialog going with them on ideas. Landowners and
hunters are absolutely critical in this. Without their support,
there will be no CWD management. We have to have them on board,”
Hauge said.

“We will also have to look at surrounding units and the role
that they play in controlling this disease. CWD could could easily
disperse to surrounding units.”

Right now, the DNR expects to have its recommendations for
liberalized seasons and hunting rules ready for the Natural
Resources Board’s June meeting.

“That doesn’t give us a whole lot of time,” Hauge said. “We have
to try to be guided by the science of this disease. One of the key
aspects is that when, let’s say we have a tough call to make in
regards to a proposal affecting the way a group of people recreate,
we ask is disease control more important than upsetting someone’s
recreational opportunities? In my mind, disease control needs to
take precedence.

“There are a number of strategies we have the regular season,
but maybe it could be something similar to how we collected the 500
deer for testing. We give authority to landowners or someone coming
onto their land (with their permission). It’s not under a season,
per se, but under landowner authority. We could start that this
summer already.

“In group discussions, one of the first questions was about
private lands access,” Hauge said. “That’s not a new issue. Are we
going to hear from landowners in upcoming meetings on something in
the way of incentives that are meaningful to landowners (to allow
access). I don’t think they would be receptive to wide open access,
but, at the same token, most are not truly closing their land to
everybody.”

DNR biologists have taken a shot at calculating what it would
take to get Unit 70A and the surrounding seven units to over-winter
goal.

“We’re looking at 36,000 deer to get those units to goal,” Hauge
said. “That’s a large undertaking. What’s realistic? I don’t
know.”

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