Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

NRB’s CWD team to ask DNR for more ‘action’ on disease

Madison – The state Natural Resources Board’s CWD subcommittee
will report to the full board Jan. 26 that it wants to see a more
“proactive” CWD plan from the DNR that could include sharpshooting
and more deer harvest south of Hwy. 10.

The DNR had presented its 5-year CWD plan to the board in
August, but NRB members expressed doubt the plan would “minimize
the area of Wisconsin where CWD occurs and the number of affected
deer in the state.”

The board then asked that the plan be peer reviewed. That was
done by Iowa DNR Wildlife Chief Dale Garner, 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 University, and Margo Pybus of the
Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division.

On Jan. 6, the NRB’s subcommittee took the reviewed plan – and
suggestions from the panelists – and met with the DNR to determine
what changes could be made to minimize the area where CWD occurs
and reduce the number of deer infected.

“We should do more than just observe. The DNR should take a
proactive role,” said NRB member Jane Wiley, of Rib Mountain.

NRB member John Welter, of Eau Claire, said the goal in the plan
is so vague it’s hard to measure whether the state makes any
progress toward the goal.

“I have a problem with a milk toast goal as it appears in the
original plan,” Welter said.

In the end, the subcommittee agreed to recommend to the full
board that the DNR rework the CWD plan to include sharp-shooting
where necessary, and emphasize communication and outreach.

“We want goals established that are more measurable,” said NRB
member Dave Clausen, of Amery, subcommittee chair.

“The consensus of this subcommittee is that we want a proactive
plan with clearly stated goals supported by actions in the plan,”
Clausen said. “We also need to consider sharp-shooting, a longer
plan, human dimensions, and monitoring.”

DNR researcher Jordan Petchenik said it’s been two years since
the DNR conducted a “human dimensions” study on hunters in the CWD
zone.

“We have no statewide research on citizen beliefs on CWD, and
(the DNR) strongly believes that is a necessity,” Petchenik said.
“Deer are a public resource, not just something that hunters care
about.”

He said a phone survey would cost at least $35,000.

Petchenik referred to a communications study about climate
change and implications for communicating about CWD. The study,
from UW-Madison’s Dunwoody, said the agency won’t be able to please
everyone, and when trying to change beliefs, the best method is to
talk with people one on one.

“In addition, experiences matter more than data,” Petchenik
said. “When hunters and landowners are not seeing sick or dead
deer, that is the belief system they will follow.”

DNR Wildlife Director Tom Hauge said the state ran the largest
disease surveillance effort in a wildlife population anywhere after
the 2002 CWD discovery. The cost has been $2 to $3 million per
year, plus a lot of staff time – paid out of the wildlife account
with much of the money from license sales.

Funding to sample deer came from USDA federal grants, and Hauge
called the funding “fragile” and not guaranteed.

Clausen noted that critics often say the state has spent over
$30 million but hasn’t beaten the disease.

“What we need to realize is that a lot of that money has gone
for things that we now know about CWD that we didn’t know back
then, and an awful lot of it has gone for testing and
surveillance,” Clausen said. “In comparison, there are other prion
diseases that affect humans and agriculture, and some of the best
minds in the world and premier research facilities have been
working on these since the 1990s – trying to come up with a
diagnostic test, spending millions of dollars – and they are no
closer today to a result. So it is not a fair statement to say that
our spending of that money failed. It has been important.”

DNR CWD Coordinator Davin Lopez said deer hunting adds $1
billion annually to the state’s economy. If CWD was left unmanaged
it would have a profound effect on the industry.

Before the Jan. 6 meeting, the Hunters’ Rights Coalition issued
a statement saying the review panel was given faulty data by the
DNR. The HRC said the state should do what Wyoming was doing, which
is very little.

Clausen offered information, which appeared to be in response to
the HRC, that showed a map of CWD in Wyoming units, noting a
decline of white-tailed deer populations.

“(Wyoming’s) Unit 65 a few years ago had 16,000 to 17,000 deer,
but the current estimate there is 50 percent of that,” Clausen
said. The area had had no significant antlerless harvest, and the
number of 4-and 5-year-old bucks on one ranch in the unit, which
manages for trophies, are not being seen.

“This is something that we as a committee and department have to
decide – is this where we want to go?” Clausen asked. “My feeling
is that someday we may have some science that will provide an
answer on a way to deal with this disease. Then, will we still have
some uncontaminated ground and some healthy deer to work with?”

Wiley wants to be sure the DNR is working closely with the
Illinois DNR on CWD along the border. Hauge said DNR Secretary Matt
Frank is collaborating with the Illinois DNR director.

Wiley also wanted to know if something is being done to get the
DNR and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer
Protection to work on closing gaps on monitoring deer farms. DNR
Assistant Secretary Mary Ellen Vollbrecht said the two agencies are
working with legislators to fix any problems.

Wiley also said funding and bringing the entire citizenry into
confronting CWD is a challenge. She’d like the DNR to explore
long-term bonding to fund long-term improvement of the CWD
situation.

Welter said he agreed with the panelists who were concerned
about the areas just outside the CWD zone.

The subcommittee will report its recommendations to the full
Natural Resources Board at its meeting Jan. 26 in Madison.

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