Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Deer researcher moves from DNR to university

Correspondent

Madison The Department of Natural Resources’ loss is
UW-Madison’s gain.

Tim Van Deelen, a deer researcher with a Ph.D., came to
Wisconsin in February of 2001, a year before chronic wasting
disease (CWD) was discovered in Wisconsin. After about three years
with the DNR, Van Deelen left the department in October and took a
research and teaching position at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, in the Department of Wildlife Ecology, as an
assistant professor.

“I do applied management-oriented research. That’s my identity,”
Van Deelen said. “My intent is to continue working on questions the
DNR thinks are important, and doing some bear research that will
dovetail with Central Forest issues. I will continue to sit on the
DNR committees dealing with deer, bears, and wolves and may get
involved in research in some of those areas, too.”

The DNR hopes to fill the position Van Deelen left, according to
Jerry Bartelt, DNR section chief of Wildlife and Forestry
Research.

“There’s a lot of support from outside groups to fill the
position as quickly as possible,” Bartelt said. “Right now the
position is frozen, but the position is still in the budget.”

Bartelt said the DNR has lost researchers to UW in the past.

Even though the DNR lost a white-tailed deer specialist, the
agency may still benefit to some degree from Van Deelen’s presence
in Wisconsin.

“It definitely will be a benefit to have someone like Tim who
focuses on deer at the university,” said Bill VanderZouwen, DNR
Wildlife and Landscape Ecology section chief. “Because he could be
involved in some research projects he was involved in with the DNR,
such as baiting and feeding, CWD management, and survey
methodology.”

VanderZouwen said Van Deelen’s movement was solely his
choice.

“I had an opportunity to get back into an academic setting, with
a little more freedom to do research,” Van Deelen said. “There was
some concern over job security, too, with the (DNR) cutbacks.”

Van Deelen will teach, advise graduate students, and conduct
research. He said DNR research is a tough position because even if
a position is secure, like that of the deer biologist, support for
that research can be squeezed off so research money for travel,
technicians, and attending meetings can be restricted and can tie a
researcher’s hands.

“There’s a lot more flexibility at a university, but there’s a
tradeoff because my family and I were able to live in northern
Wisconsin, which my family really loved,” Van Deelen said. “I’m
willing to put my own university travel money into the kind of
service and meetings to stay plugged into what deer management
needs.”

Van Deelen’s arrival in Wisconsin, from a research and teaching
position in Illinois, was at a time when deer management issues
were at a critical stage.

“There are important natural resource management research
questions that revolve around deer, deer hunting, sustainable
hunting, deer impacts on plants, the role of deer behavior on CWD
transmission, and all sorts of things I’m interested in,” Van
Deelen said.

Van Deelen believes the DNR is moving in the right direction in
CWD management.

“Given what is known about CWD, the only way we’re going to get
ahead of this disease is by increasing the kill,” he said. “The
state is fighting CWD on two fronts killing deer and removing
diseased animals and increasing the turnover rate in the
population. At some point, transmission will turn from a positive
rate to a negative rate and if it can be held at a negative rate
long enough, it will snuff out.”

Van Deelen describes this work as slogging along though data
scientists collect every year and deer data that’s been collected
since the 1950s.

“We only get one data point on the graph every year, and we only
have two points so far,” Van Deelen said. “There’s nothing we can
point to in the short term to say this is a big success. I do think
the DNR is doing the right thing, but the difficulty is bringing
the landowners along because they control access to the deer.”

Van Deelen has been in Wisconsin long enough to have heard that
it takes a generation to change people’s attitudes on issues like
deer management, and he believes that may be the time scale needed
to get a handle on CWD.

Even though Van Deelen is a deer biologist, but realizes CWD
research needs other kinds of scientists, too, and points to Robert
Holsman, at UW-Stevens Point as one of those scientists, and Nancy
Mathews, at UW-Madison, who is doing radio telemetry on deer
movement in Iowa County.

“We clearly need to do more human-dimension research on the CWD
question,” Van Deelen said. “We need to do more research on all
aspects of the CWD issue. And the telemetry work is important
information to learn how deer behavior can impact the spread of
CWD, especially these big, unpredictable jumps of yearlings
dispersing.”

It’s been said that researchers sometimes spend as much time
searching for funding as they do doing research.

“I have some ideas about a checkoff on deer licenses and things
like that where hunters have a role in deer research,” Van Deelen
said. “I used hunters in my deer research in Upper Michigan and
they got out and handled deer, helped in trapping and tagging, and
were able to see how research is done. It worked well in
Michigan.”

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