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Deer Czar Kroll Fails to Assess Impacts of His 2012 Report

When James Kroll addressed Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board last week, he fired up a PowerPoint presentation titled “The 2012 Deer Trustee Report: A 10-year Assessment.”


We still await that assessment.


During his Aug. 10 virtual appearance before the policy-setting NRB, Kroll never evaluated how Wisconsin implemented his 2012 report. Instead, his 65-minute talk and Q&A was mostly a rudimentary review of deer biology, and a boiler-plate pitch for his private deer-management consulting services. Casual observers wouldn’t know if he was addressing the Wisconsin NRB, or the directors of a Texas ranch or hunting club.


In fact, not one of the 109 slides in the deer czar’s presentation mentioned chronic wasting disease, a plague that’s grown steadily worse in Wisconsin the past decade. Of the state’s 9,495 CWD cases since the disease’s February 2002 discovery, 7,347 (77%) were confirmed after 2012. Further, those 2013-2021 samples account for only 37% (104,021) of all deer tested (282,525) the past 20 years.


Since 2002, CWD has been documented in wild deer in 38 Wisconsin counties, including 26 counties in 2021. Of deer tested last fall, Iowa County was the worst with a 31% infection rate. Next was Sauk, 25.2%; Richland, 21%; and Dane, 16.3%.


Rather than assess the “passive” approach he recommended for managing CWD in 2012, Kroll followed the safe script that NRB chair Greg Kazmierski assigned him. That is, he instead reviewed the tasks of County Deer Advisory Committees and the Deer Management Assistance Program, two citizen-involvement plans Kroll created in 2014.


Yes, Kroll devoted one PowerPoint slide to “herd health diagnostics,” but he ignored CWD while mentioning parasites, body weights, antler quality and disease abundance.


Sigh. Think about all that.


Now imagine rushing a loved one into the emergency room while yelling: “He’s got nausea, heartburn, cold sweats and chest pain! Is it a heart attack?”


If Kroll and Kazmierski were supervising the ER doctors, they’d say: “Hmm. He’s not getting enough fiber. Go home and give him more prunes, spinach and oatmeal.”


Staying on script, Kroll lauded the DNR for raising DMAP enrollments from 43,822 acres in 46 counties in 2014, to 342,117 acres in 71 counties in 2020. He also discussed his work with hunting clubs elsewhere, sharing details about tuberculosis and liver flukes in Michigan’s whitetails; and forest cover, doe lactation rates, and fawn “recruitment” in East Texas.


At other points in Kroll’s talk, he sounded like he hadn’t updated his outline since his four 2012 listening sessions in Wisconsin. He even said the DNR must do more research on the state’s “suite of predators” so we know the “cumulative impacts” of bears, coyotes, wolves and bobcats on deer.


Say what? It’s too bad the DNR lacks the cameras, crew and producer to monitor NRB and audience members for candid real-time reactions. Therefore, close your eyes and conjure up deadpan faces from TV shows like “The Office” or “Modern Family.”


Uh, Dr. Kroll? The DNR is now in Year 7 of the “Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study.” Its researchers also studied fawn and adult-buck survival in two sites — eastern farmlands and northern forest — from 2011-2013 and 2010-2015. Lengthy updates and reports on those studies are available at “dnr.wisconsin.gov.”


Later, however, when NRB member Marcy West asked how Wisconsin can shoot more farmland deer with increasingly fewer hunters, Kroll said some wildlife managers hope predators can help out. But then he suggested that hope was futile: “Predators don't control prey,” Kroll said. “The prey control the predators.”


Kroll caused another “Say what?” moment when NRB member Bill Smith asked if Wisconsin should continue his recommended “passive approach” to CWD. Kroll said that “wasn’t the truth,” and that he recommended “containment” in his 2012 report.


“I never said ‘do nothing,’” Kroll said. “We said change the approach because the old way didn’t work. … Our recommendation is being misrepresented. That is not the case.”


Uh, Dr. Kroll? Turn to Page 56 in the Wisconsin Deer Trustee and Review Committee’s final report of June 2012. It reads: “We believe it is time to consider a more passive approach to CWD. … We feel that time is NOW!”


But yes, the report also recommended the DNR try to contain CWD by attacking each “spark” as if it’s a wildfire. Why, then, did Kroll downplay CWD’s significance by telling the Board: “Some of your retired biologists are telling people we have 50% infection rates, but the highest (rate) is Iowa County, and it’s in the 20s.”


Insert deadpan face here.


A reminder: Of deer tested in Iowa County in 2021, 31% had CWD. Worse, 2020 CWD prevalence rates on bucks age 2½ and older exceeded 50% in north-central and northwestern Iowa County, as well as southeastern Richland and southwestern Sauk counties.


When Smith asked what Wisconsin should consider for future CWD efforts, Kroll said science is still learning a lot about CWD: “I was right; there is a genetic component. If (CWD) levels off at 20 to 25% in the (original) zone, it will be interesting.”


Kroll then jabbed at preliminary projections made soon after CWD’s 2002 detection. Without naming retired UW-Madison professor John Cary, Kroll said: “A University of Wisconsin professor said deer would go extinct in Wisconsin in 20 years.”


Fact-check: Cary actually said if the DNR did nothing in CWD’s original core area in eastern Iowa and western Dane counties, all deer there could be infected within 10 years and all could be dead in 25 years. Cary made no statewide predictions, and included standard weasel words for modeling scenarios for a then little-known disease.


If Kroll likes to ridicule projections from CWD’s infancy, he should have acknowledged he erred in 2007 when predicting CWD would never exceed 2% in wild deer herds.


He also failed to remedy West’s point that declining hunter numbers can’t reduce farmland deer herds. It doesn’t help that Kazmierski limits hunters to the same few “tools” prescribed for managing the Northwoods’ smaller herds, and that few hunters shoot more than one deer each fall. Instead, Kroll said, “We have to recruit more hunters.”


Kroll, however, offered to develop more easy-to-understand information for CDAC members to consider when setting antlerless quotas. He even said he’d do it for free, even though he claimed he lost money on the deal that paid him “a mere” $172,000 for his work a decade ago.


Here’s a prediction: As Wisconsin lurches ahead with Kazmierski’s deer-management plan fronted by Kroll’s 2012 report, we’ll keep losing far more than money.

Wisconsin “deer czar” Jim Kroll of Texas didn’t address chronic wasting disease until asked about it during a Q&A session during his presentation Aug. 10 to the Natural Resources Board. — David Wienkes photo

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