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  • Patrick Durkin

CWD Review Committee’s Work will Go for Naught

Updated: Oct 8

The second review/update of Wisconsin’s 2010-2025 CWD management plan is underway, even though the Department of Natural Resources’ policy-setting board ignores the original plan and its 2016 review as if they’re instructions for IKEA projects.


Yep. Wisconsin has wallowed 20 years in a chronic wasting disease tarpit, but we still can’t get four of our seven Natural Resources Board members to help the state’s deer herd.


For the record, the DNR has found CWD in wild deer in 34 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. In 2020 alone the DNR found CWD in 1,578 of 18,892 (8%) deer tested, including 1,549 of 9,375 (16.5%) samples from Wisconsin’s southern farmlands. The always-fatal disease also infects half the bucks age 2.5 and older in parts of Iowa, Sauk, Dane and Richland counties.


No other state or Canadian province has documented similarly dismal data.


CWD has also been found in 31 of Wisconsin’s privately owned deer farms, the most recent being a doe in late September at a Vilas County facility. Days earlier we learned the CWD-infected Maple Hill Farms near Gilman had shipped 387 whitetails to 40 other deer farms in seven states the past five years.


So yes, Wisconsin has CWD problems. We can argue whether wild deer pass CWD to game-farm deer or vice-versa. We can also insist CWD gets spread through hay and feed shipments, or through poop from scavenging birds or mammals. True or false, such claims don’t solve problems.


But we know with no doubt that CWD boomed the past decade while the NRB treated it like a hangover or nine-day cold. When the NRB’s willful neglect began in 2011 with the appointments of Greg Kazmierski, Bill Bruins and Terry Hilgenberg (and petrified in 2015 with Fred Prehn’s apparent lifetime appointment), the DNR had documented 1,809 CWD cases from 171,910 deer samples the previous decade, a 1% detection rate.


Since then the DNR has verified 6,372 more CWD cases from 93,650 samples, a 7% detection rate. Yes, most samples the past decade came from southwestern Wisconsin’s CWD core, but sampling stagnated while the four amigos focused their fretting on wolves and crossbows. Or was it wolves armed with crossbows?


Either way, let’s not excuse the NRB’s ardent incompetence. Led by Kazmierski, aka the Chaos Fairy, the NRB’s luddites shut down a citizen-led program for mandatory testing in the Chippewa River valley two years ago, even though Kazmierski helped craft the plan.


The NRB also …


-- eliminated October’s antlerless gun seasons, even though they were popular and helped control deer numbers;


-- ended buck hunting during late December’s holiday hunt, even though bucks are CWD’s most common carrier;


-- quietly cheered in 2011 when the Legislature outlawed the earn-a-buck option, even though the action usurped the NRB’s authority and ended the one program that effectively reduced deer densities in farm country.


Meanwhile, the DNR is carrying out its obligation to conduct this routine checkup of the 2010-2025 CWD plan. The agency can’t force NRB members to read the eventual results, let alone convert those words into new tools, but at least it can show historians and other caring Wisconsinites that it dutifully delivered its report on schedule.


The 2016 report, however, reveals the futility awaiting those serving on this year’s review committee. That’s not surprising, given that Kazmierski nagged the 2016 committee not to get “too negative” for fear that publicly discussing CWD would hurt license sales and deer hunting tourism. Even so, the 2016 review was transparent and tried to illuminate CWD’s challenges.


Their final report placed a high priority on quickly and systematically addressing new “CWD sparks” outside endemic areas. The committee wrote: “The DNR and partners will develop a statewide disease response and management action-plan template to respond to wild (deer) CWD detections in new areas. The action plan should include timeframes for implementation of surveillance and management actions by DNR and partners.”


That seems a modest, sensible objective, maybe because it differed little from the Kazmierski-directed “Deer Trustee Report” of 2014, in which James Kroll — yes, “Dr. Deer” himself — wrote:


“Dealing with wildlife diseases is not unlike responding to wildfires, and a response plan should be developed on this model, focusing on early detection of ‘breakouts’ and citizen involvement. … A fire is controlled easily when it first starts, but if uncontrolled there comes a point where control is (impossible). ... Waiting until (autumn’s) deer season to sample for CWD is not adequate. A proper approach (is) a health check/surveillance team deployed immediately on such a finding. … Once the geographic context is determined, the appropriate action should be focused, localized eradication.”


Maybe that’s why the 2016 report states: “If DNR and partners decide that an aggressive course of action is warranted for disease management in new areas of detection, then localized herd reduction tools may be considered in an effort to manage the disease.”


Pfft. Has anyone seen that toolkit?


The 2016 review also states: “The DNR will monitor peer-reviewed research findings and apply management options that may effectively control CWD and can be implemented into the traditional or optional deer season frameworks.”


Sigh. We patiently await those options, too.


In contrast, hunters, biologists and lawmakers in Minnesota are striving to not repeat Wisconsin’s myriad failings. They’re holding legislative hearings on hunter-led demands for a moratorium on new captive deer herds, as well as buy-outs of existing deer farms, and bans on interstate and intrastate transportation of privately owned deer.


Further, Minnesota’s DNR has raised the buck limit to three in seven disease zones, mandated CWD testing in disease zones for opening weekends of various gun seasons, and required deer be quartered or deboned before being removed from disease zones unless they test negative.


We could suggest the NRB’s carping quartet borrow Minnesota’s ideas, but they’re deaf to science and they fear ideas foreign to their own. In fact, if Minnesota sought their advice, they’d probably suggest building a deer-proof border wall along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, and across the wilds from Markville to Duluth.


Meanwhile, expect our four NRB embarrassments to yawn as this newly tasked committee of DNR staff, tribal biologists, conservation groups, business folks, science/policy experts and everyday hunters reviews Wisconsin’s 15-year CWD plan between now and Christmas.


And when the committee shares its recommendations with the NRB in 2022, expect Bruins, Prehn, Hilgenberg and Kazmierski to ignore it as indifferently as they do CWD itself.


Thoughtful men of action they are not.

Wisconsin has only sunk steadily deeper into its CWD tarpit since discovering the always-fatal disease 20 years ago. — Photo by Cuddeback Cameras

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