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By LeAnn R. Ralph
ROCK FALLS — With two additional wild Whitetail deer testing positive for chronic wasting disease in western Eau Claire County since last April, baiting and feeding bans have been extended in six west central Wisconsin counties.
The Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team met at the Rock Creek Town Hall in Rock Falls the evening of February 27 to discuss the testing results, take public comments and make recommendations to the state Department of Natural Resources.
As per state law, the presence of CWD-positive deer requires a three-year baiting and feed ban in Eau Claire County and a renewal of the two-year baiting and feeding ban in five other counties: Buffalo, Chippewa, Dunn, Pepin and Trempealeau.
“We’re not going to fix CWD,” said one of the advisory team members.
What can be done, however, is to understand what the always-fatal disease in Whitetail deer is doing to the area, he said.
The deer that tested positive for CWD most recently were located in the Town of Brunswick and the Town of Drammen.
Both CWD-positive deer were killed during the 2018 gun deer season and were tested as part of the surveillance efforts, said Bill Hogseth, a DNR wildlife biologist.
All together, Eau Claire has had three CWD-positive wild deer and one CWD-positive game farm deer.
About 50 people attended the meeting, and when Hogseth asked how many of them in the room had gotten their deer tested during hunting season this past fall, many of those in attendance raised their hands.
“There are more than just a few animals with the disease walking around Brunswick and Rock Creek,” Hogseth said.
“There are more than a handful of deer, and the disease has been here a while,” he said.
If additional CWD-positive deer are found, there will be a localized culling program for the deer herd that would include trapping and euthanizing the deer, Hogseth said.
Both of the deer from last fall that tested positive were mature bucks killed with regular hunting licenses during the gun deer season, Hogseth said.
One member of the advisory team wanted to know if either of the deer had shown signs of wasting.
The deer “looked fine” and did not appear to have anything wrong with them according to the hunters, Hogseth said.
CWD is most-often detected in mature bucks.
The DNR fell short of the CWD testing goals for the area, Hogseth said.
In the “surveillance area,” the goal was 310, but only 238 deer were tested. In a smaller “focus area,” the goal was 70 deer but only 61 were tested, he said.
All together, 437 deer were tested in Buffalo County; 198 were tested in Chippewa County; 373 were tested in Dunn County; 341 were tested in Eau Claire County; 77 were tested in Pepin County; and 237 were tested in Trempealeau County, Hogseth said.
To date, testing has been voluntary, but would mandatory testing result in better information during hunting season? asked one advisory team member.
“Are we getting a good look at what’s happening?” he asked, noting that in some townships in the focus area, hardly any deer were tested.
“Three have tested positive, but how many are walking around with it?” said one advisory team member.
“I’m getting tired of hearing ‘slow the spread.’ We need mandatory surveillance,” the man said.
The advisory team member also went on to say that he has heard people do not want to test deer killed on their land because they do not want the DNR “snooping on my land.”
During the public comments portion of the meeting, one gentleman in the audience, who said he had a degree in wildlife management, declared that the spread of CWD cannot be stopped and that “we can only slow it down.”
“We should let Mother Nature take its course,” he said, noting that eventually, the deer susceptible to CWD will die out, leaving those that have some sort of natural immunity to the disease.
So far, there is no evidence that CWD affects people, but the focus on testing deer for CWD is driving people away from deer hunting, the man said.
If a deer tests positive, individuals must make their own decisions about whether they want to eat a CWD-positive deer, said one of the advisory team members.
If people reach the point where they do not want to eat venison, then we will lose population control, said another member of the advisory team.
When population control is lost, Whitetail deer will become a nuisance, and then “we will have to shoot them like prairie dogs” because there are too many, he said.
CWD is more prevalent in old bucks, and the problem is, people let bucks go for years so they can get bigger. Land ownership also has changed, and people do not complete deer drives the way they did years ago. CWD has not yet jumped the species barrier, but “mad cow” disease jumped the species barrier to humans in Great Britain, the advisory team member said.
And while it would be his personal decision to eat the meat, he would be more hesitant to hand the venison to his grandchildren to eat, the team member said.
“We need to push the testing to find out for sure,” he said.
CWD started spreading in the southern part of the state where there are more big bucks because people do not hunt, said another member of the advisory team.
It is important to emphasize that the testing is provided, he said.
The more genetically-resistant deer will take over eventually, but maybe not until 80 years from now, the advisory team member said.
The typical turn-around time on testing is one to two weeks, Hogseth said.
If the initial test is negative, the hunter is notified, but if the initial test is positive, then further testing is done, he said.
Notification on the positive CWD results from the two bucks shot in November was not received until recently.
Hunters are not notified if the initial screening test is positive, and they do not know that additional testing is being done on the deer, Hogseth said.
Members of the advisory team said it was unacceptable that hunters did not receive notification of an initial positive and that they ended up waiting months to find out the deer they had killed was positive for CWD.
“Maybe they should be notified so they are not waiting for months,” Hogseth said.
In recent years, in-person registration stations in Wisconsin have been replaced with on-line registration of deer killed during the hunting season.
Many hunters have objected to the elimination of the in-person registration stations.
One member of the advisory team said that in-person registration stations should be implemented again, and a number of people in the audience agreed.
If there were in-person registration stations, that would help for getting more CWD testing done, said one member of the advisory team.
People working at the in-person registration stations could find out where the deer had been killed and if it was an area where more CWD testing needed to be done, he said.
In-person registration would also help for obtaining more accurate numbers of deer killed during the hunting season, said one member of the audience.
The DNR will hold 72 public hearings, one in each county, starting at 7 p.m. Monday, April 8,
to allow people interested in natural resources management to provide testimony to the DNR and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.
The Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team also is expected to meet again later this spring or sometime during the summer.