NRB eases toward four-day October antlerless gun season in CWD zone
Madison — The Natural Resources Board (NRB) approved a DNR request to begin the process to re-establish a four-day, antlerless-only gun deer season in the CWD zone.
At the board’s March 28 meeting, members voted by a 6 to 1 margin, with Greg Kazmierski voting against, to approve a scope statement (which was already approved by the governor) to draft emergency rule language that re-establishes the four-day season in an effort to control the spread of CWD.
If adopted, the season will begin on Thursday, Oct. 11.
Normally this wouldn’t come before the board until the NRB adopts its regular deer season framework at its April meeting. But because Act 50, passed by the Legislature last year, prohibits regular October firearm deer seasons, the only way for the DNR to establish an October season is with an emergency order passed each year – that process starts with approval of a scope statement.
Tom Hauge, DNR director of wildlife management, told the board that the DNR has held an October season for herd and disease control purposes in the CWD zone since 2002.
“Hunting seasons are really the main management tool for regulating deer populations, which is one of the strategies we use for CWD management,” Hauge said. “The October season has been looked at by the (University of Wisconsin) and they concluded the season has an additive impact to the overall harvest. We believe it has value.”
Kazmierski said that he had a difficult time understanding the need for the season because last year only 2,033 deer were killed during that October season.
Kazmierski was disappointed that an emergency rule is being used in this situation.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” Kazmierski chided Hauge. He said the DNR has irritated hunters in the CWD zone and wondered how the DNR could recommend this hunt.
Hauge said that CWD prevalence has continued to increase, and the DNR position is that it is still a serious disease.
“We’re approaching 20 percent prevalence (or one out of five) in adult male deer, which most hunters aspire, and the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization still say not to eat CWD-positive deer,” Hauge said.
Hauge said there are not a lot of tools in the tool box that can change the prevalence rate. He said shooting more antlerless deer could slow the spread. Although it is unpopular with some landowners, it is popular with others, he said; about 80 percent of the deer killed in that zone are killed on private land.
Kazmierski questioned that figure, saying there were 1.04 deer killed per square mile on public land (275 square miles) in the CWD zone, while hunters on private land within the zone (8,562 square miles) killed .18 deer per square mile. He wondered why the DNR doesn’t “throw the hunters a bone and work more with the hunting community” and then see more participation and an increasing harvest?
“I think that we threw them a T-bone steak last year and what we saw was an increased buck harvest and decreased antlerless harvest,” Hauge said. He repeated that this antlerless season is one of the only tools still available to the DNR.
Kazmierski suggested that the regular archery harvest might make up for the four-day October gun kill, but Hauge said that the gun kill per square mile is four or five times higher than the archery harvest outside of the CWD zone on a per square mile basis.
Other board members joined in the discussion, with Bill Bruins saying that the 20 percent prevalence rate of CWD in bucks in the zone is alarming.
“I’m not only in favor of this (emergency rule), but would strongly encourage the DNR to find additional ways to reduce deer numbers in the zone,” Bruins said.
NRB member Christine Thomas said that she believes CWD is a serious problem and currently hunting is the only tool that is left on the table.
“I personally think that no action is not an option,” she said.
Kazmierski said he has a problem describing the zone as having a 20 percent CWD prevalence rate when it reaches over toward his area. He said the presence of CWD is almost non-existent there.
Hauge said that one of the most difficult things to do is to measure spread, but surveillance indicates they are finding the disease further and further out from the core of the zone. Some open, non-forested tracts to the east may be helping prevent the spread to the east, with river corridors being the major travel lanes for deer.
Kazmierski moved to table the proposal, but his motion lost by a 5 to 2 vote (with Bruins and Kazmierski voting in favor).
NRB member Terry Hilgenberg said he understands the frustration of hunters, but he thought this proposal was merely a band-aide.
“I don’t want these damn animals up in my neck of the woods,” said Hilgenberg. “I think we need to put together a more comprehensive plan to deal with this situation, and we need to move forward with this band-aide and instruct the department to come forward with a comprehensive plan on how we’re going to deal with this problem.”
The scope statement, which allows the DNR to now write language for an emergency rule, passed 6 to 1, with Kazmierski voting against. The emergency rule will come back to the board for approval in April, and if adopted, then must be approved by the governor.