Landowners Can Use Bait in CWD Zone

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Landowners in Wisconsin's Chronic Wasting Disease Eradication Zone west of Madison will be allowed to hunt deer over bait under emergency rules that the state Natural Resources Board approved in a special session conference call Tuesday, Jan. 7. The board also approved extending shooting permits through March 31 in the zone.

The emergency rules is intended to help meet deer herd reduction goals in the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Eradication Zone. Without the use of this efficient management tool, Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers said herd reduction may not be sufficient to reduce the spread of CWD from the infected area.

"If we get snow, shooting deer over bait in winter is a very effective deer culling method," said Tom Hauge, chief of wildlife management at DNR. "The rule will allow the department to enlist landowners as cooperators in culling efforts during the winter of 2003 by exempting them from the statewide baiting prohibition enacted by the Natural Resources Board last June."

The board passed an emergency rule in June 2002 banning deer baiting and feeding across the state at the request of wildlife biologists, veterinarians and conservation organizations. The rule approved today will allow deer hunting over bait by permitted landowners, their guests, or government sharpshooters. Government sharpshooters will shoot on private property with approval of the landowner and will prepare a safety plan for each site. Wildlife officials felt the emergency rule was needed now in order to take advantage of any snowfall in the area, which would greatly improve hunting success.

"Bait will be provided by the department at sites agreed upon by the biologist and the landowner," explained Hauge. "A potential bait site must offer safe shooting lanes and a reasonable chance of success. We'll also pick up the carcasses on a weekly basis so all the landowner has to do is get the animal out to where we can access it."

In a series of public meetings held late last fall, area residents developed a list of preferred tools they would like to see implemented to make the job of reducing the herd size easier. One of the most highly ranked options on that list was landowner ability to shoot over bait. Another preferred suggestion was to pay landowners to shoot deer on their properties. Payments were not part of this rule proposal but will be discussed at greater length in months to come.

This will all be explained in a letter that will be sent to Eradication Zone landowners currently holding a CWD nuisance wildlife permit, according to Hauge. The letter will also ask landowners if the landowner would consider allowing government sharpshooters to hunt over the bait sites. Also, a short survey included in the letter asks landowners if they would consider allowing volunteer hunters to shoot on their properties and asks for their preference on the best way to connect landowners with volunteer hunters while protecting property rights and privacy.

The Eradication Zone is where the CWD management goal is to sharply reduce the deer population to remove disease deer to limit or halt its spread. To date, about 8,000 deer have been killed from the area; wildlife officials estimated the prehunt population in the area at 25,000 or more. Ten to 12,000 more deer must be harvested from the area just to get deer populations in the zone to the current 20 to 25 deer per square mile population goal presently set out in state statutes for deer management units in the area.

"The remaining deer in the Eradication Zone can easily produce 8,000 fawns by next summer through the annual breeding process," Hauge said. "Without additional hunting, we won't have gained any ground toward reducing the high deer populations in that area."

"Regardless of one's views on the practicality of eradicating CWD in this area, I'm encouraging landowners to take advantage of the remaining days of the hunting season. For the good of the deer herd, we need their help."