Legislature doesn’t know herd’s value?
Madison — The CWD Response Plan Review Committee identified possible new actions — including economic studies highlighting the huge importance of the deer herd — that it will consider adding to the state’s 15-year CWD Response Plan.
The committee, sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, and Conservation Congress, met for the second time Nov. 14.
Committee members had the opportunity to suggest new action items that they would like to see added to the state’s plan, and then reviewed three portions of the current plan.
Committee coordinator, Bob Nack, of the DNR, reminded the committee that their focus is on what needs to be done. How that will be accomplished would be the responsibility of agencies later.
Committee members were asked to start by describing new action items that the response plan could include.
Dr. Amanda Falch, Wildlife Rehabilitation Advisory Council, said that to protect the wild herd and limit disease spread, double fencing should be considered for deer farms.
Mike Riggle, of the Conservation Congress, said the current plan is not very good. He said it is not an action plan. Rather than double fencing, Riggle said a three-wire electric fence on the inside and outside of the main fence will decrease nose-to-nose contact on cervid farms where CWD has been found.
“We have a billion dollar industry in our wild deer herd and we need to treat it like that and come up with science-based realistic responses to a disease outbreak when CWD is discovered in new areas,” Riggle said.
“We need to protect our investment; our wild deer herd is our agricultural industry.”
George Meyer, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, agreed that double fencing should be put around every cervid farm that is infected with CWD.
“These are high risk situations and need additional protection,” Meyer said.
He also called for continuing double fencing around any cervid farm where CWD was found until such time DNR and DATCP certifies it is disease free.
Meyer wanted to see testing for CWD substantially increased, and asked for a deer hunting license surcharge to help pay for monitoring and testing, plus low-cost kits that can be distributed to hunters to have their deer tested.
Mitch King, of the Archery Trade Association, said that the committee should concentrate on a plan that addresses what is needed to work on CWD rather than a plan that fits into the DNR budget. He also asked for management practices to be developed that would restrict scent products using deer urine unless the facility is not infected with CWD.
Tony Grabski, of the Sporting Heritage Council, said better ways should be developed to match hunters who want to donate venison directly with food pantry recipients.
“Ethical hunters will only kill what they can eat and donating deer to food pantries takes considerable effort,” he said.
Grabski also said that there should be substantial property tax breaks or incentives for landowners who open their land for hunting, resulting in more deer being harvested.
Kim Pokorny, Veterinary Medical Association, said the committee needed input from agricultural representatives who were not now on the committee.
“Agriculture is the state’s number one industry, and I don’t see production agriculture at this table,” she said.
Nack said representatives of the tribes and agriculture had been invited to attend, but had not sent representatives.
Rebecca Osborne, Department of Health Services, suggested that DNR should provide public health messages to hunters when they use the electronic deer registration system.
She said that funding of CWD efforts is a huge barrier and the DNR should consider additional license fees or taxes on outdoor recreational equipment.
Jerome Donohoe, of the Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmer’s Association, asked for a new scientific review of the genetics of deer within the CWD endemic zone. He said all wild elk being brought in from Kentucky should be tested for CWD prior to their release in Wisconsin.
Bill McCrary, of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, said he supported the proposals by Riggle and Meyer, but the biggest obstacle is obtaining more funding for the CWD program.
Mike Spors, of Whitetails Unlimited, said more funding was needed to implement the plan’s action items. He liked the idea of a surcharge on deer licenses or new taxes on deer hunting equipment.
Drew Nussbaum, Department of Tourism, said that many people don’t realize the importance of deer hunting to the Wisconsin economy. He said the message about CWD and deer hunting is too often negative. A positive message should be emphasized.
“The perception is that CWD only exists in any significant form in Wisconsin,” he said, adding that the disease has been found out west for many more years.
Riggle countered that spinning a positive message was the wrong thing to do, and people must know about the potential risks and how to mitigate them.
“This is not a disease that will go away,” Riggle said.
During the discussion, committee members suggested that a low-cost CWD testing kit would be useful for hunters. The committee learned the DNR is experimenting this fall by training 52 hunters who received instructions and a kit to extract lymph nodes from their deer for CWD testing.
Tami Ryan, of the DNR, said that so far three hunters had submitted samples and they appeared to do a good job of obtaining the correct sample.
Ryan also addressed one committee suggestion about additional funding, saying that Gov. Scott Walker had allowed the DNR to charge $5 for bonus antlerless deer permits. In 2015, that brought in $295,281.
Dr. Paul McGraw, DATCP chief veterinarian, said that in Wisconsin, deer farms are already regulated. “CWD is a Wisconsin problem, not just a deer farm problem,” he said.
Grabski said too much fear is being used to drive CWD policy, and that DNR maps showing CWD “affected counties” actually shows where baiting and feeding is banned because they are adjacent to counties where CWD was found and these counties don’t necessarily have CWD.
“CWD was discovered in 1967, and since then nobody has died and it has not transferred to humans,” Grabski said. The cautionary statements about the transfer of CWD using words such as could and might are all “fear driven and is bad,” he said.
Meyer said that the governor’s proposal that DNR inspect deer farm fences every two years should be implemented (as compared to every 10 years) and that it should be mandatory that after every storm the owner inspects fences because downed trees can allow deer to escape.
Meyer also said that there needs to be more research on the uptake of CWD prions by plants and the potential spread of the disease by plants shipped around the state.
Committee members then went through three of the current plan’s action items: increasing public understanding, addressing the needs of citizens, and enhancing scientific information about CWD.
No votes were taken, though a Grabski idea received support. He suggested that in surveillance areas outside of the CWD Zone, testing of harvested deer should be mandatory for a random number of hunters. Currently testing in that area is optional.
The committee reserves a half hour for citizen comments, and the only citizen who came forward was Tom Hauge, of Sauk County, the recently retired DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management director.
Hauge owns 20 acres in Sauk County and said two deer shot there have tested positive for CWD. He asked the committee for an economic study to document the value of white-tailed deer to Wisconsin. He said the legislature requires proof that the deer herd is worth investing in.
“We invested $250 million to keep the Milwaukee Bucks franchise healthy. Are we willing to do the same for our real deer herd?” asked Hauge.
Hauge also said that research indicates that frequency of contact drives CWD in the deer herd. He asked the committee to investigate what incentives are needed to get landowners and hunters to remove CWD-positive deer from the landscape. Hauge cited one researcher who said that removing 40 percent or more of CWD-positive deer annually can push prevalence down.