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

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CWD review panel: It’s up to citizens

Madison – A panel of experts who reviewed the DNR’s CWD plan
believes state residents are going to have to decide if they want
to do everything possible to contain CWD to the areas where it is
present today, or if they are willing to live with an expanding
disease.

That’s the gist of a panel’s review of the DNR’s 5-year CWD plan
that was presented to the Natural Resources Board in August. At
that time, the NRB said the plan was “too light,” and asked that
sections of the plan be reviewed by experts.

The external reviewers issued their report in December. The
panel included Dale Garner, Iowa DNR chief of wildlife; Sharon
Dunwoody, of the UW-Madison School of Journalism; Damien Joly, of
the Wildlife Conservation Society; Daniel O’Brien, of the Michigan
DNR; Markus Petersen, of Texas A&M; and Margo Pybus, of the
Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division.

The review upholds the NRB’s concerns about the DNR plan.

“As difficult as it may be to accept at this point, there is
little reason for optimism that the ultimate course of CWD in the
endemic areas can be significantly altered. In other words, in the
CWD management zone itself, the dye has already been cast and
whether herd reductions come as a result of harvest or
CWD-associated mortality, they are likely to eventually come one
way or another,” the report said.

The panel states that the removal of infected deer reduces the
risk of transmission via direct and indirect routes.

For areas where CWD is present, “clean” deer can become infected
from contact with an infected deer or contact with a contaminated
environment. Studies have shown that deer can become infected from
contact with the earth where feces, urine, or fluids from a
CWD-infected deer have been deposited.

However, in areas where CWD is not established, the environment
is likely to be uncontaminated and therefore not a source of
exposure for deer. The conclusion, which may not seem evident at
first, is that it is more important to reduce deer densities
outside the CWD zone than it is inside the zone, according to the
report.

The report recommends that earn-a-buck rules, though unpopular
with hunters, be required throughout the southern half of the
state.

“The public in areas outside the CWD zone cannot be allowed to
persist with the mistaken belief that CWD is not their problem, and
that management of deer outside the zone can carry on as usual, as
though CWD did not exist and was not a … threat to the entire
state’s natural resources, culture and economy,” the report
states.

The report also says the general public – not just hunters –
should have a stake in CWD activities, and the 17-member advisory
committee that made suggestions to the DNR in 2008 may not be
representative of the majority of hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, or
the general public.

The panelists said that for new “sparks” that are found outside
of the CWD zone, reduced deer density would reduce the spread of
CWD into new areas and is a worthwhile objective. Agency
sharpshooters are one way to accomplish herd reduction.

The report also raises the possibility that the NRB may want to
seek statutory authority for access to private land to reduce deer
herds, especially at the edge of a CWD cluster.

“The public will ultimately decide, for better or worse, what
eventually will be done with CWD in Wisconsin,” the report states.
“If the public is unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary in the
present to prevent the disease from spreading and the outbreak from
growing, then their children will have to deal with the
consequences. The DNR must accept the possibility that no matter
what they do or how well they do it, the public may decide that
having abundant deer in the short term is more important to them
than having healthy abundant deer for … future generations. If that
happens, it will not be the DNR who has failed as stewards of the
resource, but the people of Wisconsin.”

The prime mover behind getting the review was NRB member Dave
Clausen, a veterinarian from Amery. He said in August, “My thought
is that because of social and political pressures from landowners
and hunters we have emasculated this plan down to where we will do
a good job of documenting what is going on but there is not a lot
of action in the plan.”

Clausen said people must pay attention to the report.

“The issue is how much to do to try to stop it,” Clausen said.
“If you have cancer most people do as much as possible to try to
stop or delay it in hopes a cure will come up. I look at CWD the
same way. We don’t have anything that will work on it now, but is
that an excuse to let it run rampant?”

Clausen has studied CWD since 1997. He is aware of a study
indicating that mule deer begin secreting CWD prions in feces long
before they develop clinical signs of the disease. The study
theorized that prolonged excretion of CWD in feces could explain
the high incidence of CWD within deer herds.

Clausen said that with all of the research being conducted
someone could someday find a “silver bullet” that will help bring
CWD under control. Thus, there is a need to try to keep CWD
contained to a small area and not allow the disease to spread to
other areas of the state.

Clausen called a meeting of the NRB’s CWD subcommittee for Jan.
6 in Madison. Clausen, John Welter, of Eau Claire, and Jane Wiley,
of Rib Mountain, will discuss the report with the DNR. They will
investigate recommendations it may want to make to the full NRB to
consider revising the DNR CWD plan.

“We owe it to the natural resources to do the best that we can,”
Clausen said.

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