CWD Public Meetings

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Over the next few weeks, Department of Natural Resources wildlife experts will host public meetings in communities around Wisconsin to present information and answer questions on Chronic Wasting Disease.

The first public meeting is scheduled for May 1, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Mt. Horeb High School gymnasium. Additional meetings are set for May 8 in Eau Claire at Eau Claire Memorial High School, 7 to 10 p.m.; May 14 in Rhinelander at Rhinelander High School, 7 to 10 p.m.; May 15 in Waukesha at Waukesha County Expo Center Arena, 7 to 9:30 p.m.; and May 16 in Green Bay at Southwest High School Auditorium, 7 to 9 p.m.

In addition to conducting a large CWD testing effort, staff from DNR and the Departments of Agriculture and Health has been developing CWD management proposals and will use the public meetings to gather comments on the proposals.

With tremendous help from area landowners, the job of collecting 500 sample deer from western Dane and eastern Iowa Counties for CWD-testing is complete but not all test results are back. To date, of 439 samples tested, 10 have proven positive for CWD. Final recommendations on management options and the area affected by those recommendations will depend on the full test results.

"Any recommendations that go to the Natural Resources Board for approval will hinge on the full test results," said Tom Hauge, director of wildlife management for DNR. "It's pretty clear that we need to reduce the number of deer in the area of the infection and the number of deer coming into contact with each other. We feel -- and experts from other CWD states agree -- that deer population management is the best strategy we have for limiting the transmission of this disease. As with the 500-deer sample collection we will need landowner and hunter support to have any chance of success."

CWD is a fatal communicable disease affecting deer and elk. It is most likely spread by animal to animal contact. State wildlife officials first learned of the infection on February 28, when a United States Department of Agriculture laboratory in Ames, Iowa notified them that three deer collected as part of a random deer herd health monitoring program had tested positive for CWD. All three deer were shot in the Town of Vermont during the 2001 deer season. A helicopter survey of a portion of the infected area revealed whitetailed deer populations as high as 100 deer per square mile near where the disease was discovered.

"CWD has huge ramifications for the deer herd, hunters, landowners, farmers, meat processors, motorists, wildlife conservation, plant communities, the economy and the DNR," says Bill Vander Zouwen, the DNR wildlife biologist who is leading the team charged with drafting hunting rules for the CWD management area. "We don't know if we can be successful managing this disease. However, to maximize our chance of success we need to be aggressive, and we will have to consider some radical hunting regulations.

"Given the seriousness of this disease and the potential for it to spread, an overall control strategy likely will include an area larger than the 415 square mile surveillance area or the deer management unit where the discovery was made.

"Right now, we're looking at thirteen deer management units as part of a CWD Management Zone. All of the infected deer found so far have come from deer management unit (DMU) 70A but the hunting rule proposals being developed would apply to DMU?s 54B, 70, 70A, 70B, 70G, 71, 73E, 75A, 75C, 75D, 76, 76M and 77A."

Wildlife and health officials believe it's necessary to reduce deer numbers over an area up to 30 to 40 miles from the known infection to reduce the risk of disease spread, since it's not uncommon for deer to disperse more than ten miles in a year, according to VanderZouwen. Within the CWD Management Zone there will be a core area where control strategies beyond hunting likely will be used. This area would be fluid and could change based on additional CWD discoveries.

Wildlife managers and disease specialists are examining a number of population control ideas. It's the combination of strategies that would work the best that remains to be decided. And that will involve input from the public. Just about everything is on the table according to Vander Zouwen.

CWD management goals listed by wildlife managers and health specialists include:

  • Cutting CWD transmission rates between deer
  • Reducing the dispersal of the disease from the core area
  • Reducing congregations of deer within the CWD Management Zone

Management options that might be considered for accomplishing these goals that the public will be asked to comment on include:

  • Reducing the deer population drastically within the core area
  • Reducing deer populations below carrying capacity outside the core area but within the CWD Management Zone
  • Prohibition within the CWD Management Zone of baiting for hunting and deer feeding if authority is given to DNR by the legislature
  • Landowner permits allowing landowners to issue harvest tags to hunters of their choice beyond the CWD core hunting season
  • All weapons including archery, muzzleloader, rifle and shotgun within the entire control area. Blaze orange would be required for all hunters except waterfowl hunters during this period. This season would apply to the entire CWD Management Zone.
  • A deer season from the first day of October Zone-T to January 31 in the control area
  • Bag limits that would include one of the following: unlimited either sex tags; one either sex tag, unlimited antlerless tags and additional buck tags for each antlerless deer registered; requirement of shooting an antlerless deer before shooting a buck with no limit.

"CWD needs to be a priority for all of us," said Hauge. "This is necessary because there is just so much at stake. However, I need to repeat that CWD control won't work without the support and assistance of the public, especially hunters and landowners; that's why it's so important we work together to develop a CWD control strategy."

"We've scheduled a public meeting at the Mt Horeb High School Gym on May 1 to report on the sampling effort and lay out our proposals with area residents," says Vander Zouwen. "Before that we'll have talked to a number of smaller groups including area hunters and landowners. We'll also be talking to our conservation partners to get feed back on these ideas. Although we don't have dates set at this time, we'll be announcing public meetings in other areas of the state to hear from citizens outside the known infection area. CWD and whitetail management is a concern to everyone in Wisconsin."

After consideration of all comments, final proposals will go to the Natural Resources Board at its June meeting in Racine. Modifications to hunting seasons in the CWD Management Zone infected area will not affect hunting seasons in the rest of the state. The Natural Resources Board set hunting season rules for the rest of the state earlier in the year.

Citizens should monitor the CWD Web page at DNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.wi.us for developments and an opportunity to comment on CWD management proposals via the Internet.