Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Game farm buck tests negative for CWD

Ashland, Wis — What initially appeared to be a huge story with
controversial ramifications in northern Wisconsin and Upper
Michigan fortunately fizzled on Nov. 18 when the “gold standard”
test for chronic wasting disease on a buck from a Bayfield County
hunting preserve came back negative.

Davin Lopez, the DNR’s CWD coordinator, said a pair of preliminary
positive tests on the 31⁄2-year-old white-tailed buck that was
born, raised, and shot at Twin Creek Hunting Preserve had the DNR
scrambling to organize a surveillance plan to test deer within 10
miles of Ashland.

Despite the negative test result, the DNR planned to go ahead and
test hundreds of hunter-shot deer in the area. Several breaches in
the 903-acre Twin Creek’s fence were found during a DNR inspection
last month as part of a planned sale of the property. There were
signs of deer movement in and out of the preserve, and the DNR said
it would target any suspect animals along the fenced area to assure
any escaped deer are removed and tested.

“We already do statewide sampling, and the more samples, the
better,” Lopez said. “Staff are mobilized and the groundwork has
already been laid. It’s going to be very efficient because it’s
already in place.”

The DNR planned to send staff members to four registration stations
opening weekend to collect tissue samples and hoped to gather
samples on every adult deer registered. DNR staff also is working
with Ashland- and Washburn-area meat processors, taxidermists, and
car-kill deer contractors to collect samples the remainder of the
year.

In the past decade, tests of more than 1,000 wild deer in the area
were negative for both CWD and bovine TB.

Hunters who see a deer with an ear tag, one that acts domesticated
or appears sick are being asked to shoot the deer and use a valid
carcass tag. They will be issued a replacement tag.

If a person doesn’t have a valid  tag, he or she can contact a
conservation warden for verbal authorization to shoot the deer for
the DNR and bring the deer to one of the collection sites to have
the deer tested for disease. Dave Oginski is the warden supervisor,
(715) 685-2929; Dave Zebro is the regional warden, (715)
635-4093.

Finding a CWD-positive deer in the preserve could have triggered
baiting and feeding bans in Ashland and Bayfield counties, as well
as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The preserve is located just
southwest of Ashland. Even though the preserve is in Bayfield
County, it is within 10 miles of Ashland County. Michigan is more
restrictive in its CWD plan. It states that if CWD is found within
50 miles of its border, Michigan would ban baiting and feeding in
the adjoining peninsula. A positive test result could have forced a
controversial ban in the U.P., which would have put the entire
state under a baiting and feeding ban. A CWD-positive deer in a
Kent County preserve initiated a ban in the Lower Peninsula in
2008.

Results ‘stained’

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
spokesperson Donna Gilson said the first round of testing at the
Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, came up with a
preliminary CWD positive just as the Wisconsin Veterinary
Diagnostic Laboratory did.

However, both labs said there was some unusual staining on their
positive, not the typical staining.

Lopez said on Nov. 17 that it would be extremely unusual for there
to be a false positive, but that’s apparently what happened. A day
later, Gilson said the “gold standard” test showed it was
“absolutely not CWD.” She said it appeared the deer may have had
some sort of an infection, but a whole battery of tests came up
empty.

“Nobody had ever seen this particular pattern of staining before,”
Lopez said. “We learned something. In the future, people who are
interpreting those things will definitely not say ‘preliminary
positive’ until we run more conclusive tests.”

Lopez said barring any legal issues, DATCP likely would have ruled
that the preserve be depopulated and all the animals tested. The
owners would have been paid an indemnity.

Jack Martinsen recently sold the deer- and elk-hunting portion of
the business but kept the small breeder facility.
Three-day/four-night deer hunt prices, according to the Twin Creeks
web site, run from $1,000 to $8,000, depending on the size of the
harvested buck’s antlers.

Though no firm numbers were available on how many deer are in the
preserve, the web site said that more than 75 bucks ranging between
130 and 180 Boone & Crockett points, all native to the
preserve, were available.

Mixed opinions on a ban

Bill Ernst, of the Butternut Feed Store in Ashland County, said in
2002 – the year baiting and feeding was banned – he lost $170,000
in corn sales.

“It’s gotten to be very competitive since then,” Ernst said.
“Everybody and their brother sells corn. A ban would hurt big time;
I can’t even tell you how bad. I bet you’re looking at at least
$150,000 in sales.”

Ernst said he knew the combination of too many doe tags and
predators in the past decade would put a serious dent in the deer
herd.

He said a ban would be a knee-jerk reaction that could backfire. He
said fewer deer are yarding up since people began feeding them in
fall and winter.

“If they take that away, those deer will try to yard up,” Ernst
said. “If they get in a deer yard and it’s a tough winter, the
predators will get in there and there won’t be anything
left.”

Corn was priced near $15 per hundred pounds this year, not as high
as two years ago but up significantly from last fall, Ernst said.
He blamed it on ethanol plants bidding it high.

Meanwhile, Craig Putchat, owner of Outdoor Allure – a full-service
sport shop and guiding service in Washburn near the shores of Lake
Superior – says baiting and feeding already is dividing
hunters.

“About half the hunters are real dependent on bait, and of course a
lot of businesses sell it,” Putchat said. “But there are also a
pretty good number of hunters up here who are sick and tired of
baiting and feeding.”

The long list of problems associated with the practices up north
are documented in DNR warden reports each season, but Putchat said
there’s another angle: recreational feeding prior to and during the
deer season brings deer “closer to town” and concentrates them,
often away from hunters.

“If the DNR does decide to ban baiting and feeding, they’ll need to
hire more wardens to enforce it,” Putchat said.

Deer farmer speaks out

Gary Nelson, of Wild Rivers Whitetails in Fence, past president of
Whitetails of Wisconsin and the North American Deer Farmers
Association, said most hunters and deer farmers have no problem
with tracking and level-headed approaches to any diseases, not just
CWD.

“I think collectively we feel Wisconsin overreacted to the initial
discovery of CWD,” Nelson said. “All the hype and hysteria that was
generated initially had a negative impact. I think now’s a perfect
opportunity to re-examine what we’ve done and where our focus
should be in the future.”

Nelson said the “doom and gloom” early on turned out to be nowhere
near as devastating as the representations that were made. A lot of
what has happened since has only heightened the friction between
the agency and the hunters out there participating, he said.

“Deer hunting in Wisconsin could be so much more if cooler heads
had prevailed back then,” Nelson said. “You name the issue, there’s
friction. I think people are frustrated. We’ve public-commented to
death deer and deer-hunting regulations. If we end up doing
business as usual, that frustration doesn’t go away.”

For much more on CWD in Wisconsin, visit
http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/whealth/issues/CWD/index.htm,
or go to outdoornews/links.

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