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Deer Czar Kroll to Meet with Natural Resources Board

Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board will welcome back Texas’ Jim Kroll to its meeting Aug. 10 to catch up on all things white-tailed deer.


If you’ve forgotten about Professor Kroll of Stephen F. Austin University, here’s a reminder: Former Gov. Scott Walker hired him in 2012 to be the “Wisconsin Deer Trustee.” Few call him that, of course, maybe because we were never quite sure what “trustee” means. Instead, some folks call him by his show-biz name, “Dr. Deer,” and others call him “Deer Czar.”


Kroll came highly recommended for the temporary coronation by NRB member Greg Kazmierski of Waukesha, who recently revealed he’s a gifted “translator” of scientific data, peer-reviewed research and other complicated stuff. Armed with those superpowers and a store that sells and services bowhunting equipment, Kazmierski persuaded Gov. Walker to direct Kroll to critique the Department of Natural Resources’ deer-management plans and note their shortcomings.


Vowing to put the fun back into deer hunting, Kroll and his team sallied forth in spring 2012 to modest crowds in four cities, and filed their report later that year. DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp then named over 50 Wisconsin citizens to meet seven Saturdays in spring/summer 2013 to craft ideas for putting Kroll’s findings into action.


After those teams turned in their reports to Stepp in July 2013, she let Kazmierski mostly ignore them and write his own plan. That infuriated the good citizens, of course. Mark Noll of Alma, a longtime Wisconsin Conservation Congress member, said the DNR “played him for a sucker.”


Noll added: “I drove over 2,000 miles at my own cost, spent seven weekends, and for what? When I started serving on the WCC 30 years ago, our concern was, ‘What is best for the resource?’ What happened to that simple litmus test?”


Kazmierski’s plans then went out for a round of public hearings in early 2015. Scant few folks showed up to comment, and Stepp proclaimed “a new age of deer hunting” when the NRB eventually OK’d the plans. In case you’ve forgotten, the Kaz Plan eliminated in-person deer registration; tries to manage deer by county; pretends chronic wasting disease doesn’t exist; lets counties set their own antlerless quotas, permit allocations and special seasons; and lets Kaz and his NRB cronies overrule any recommendations The Translator doesn’t like.


We’ve heard little from Kroll since then, except for some Facebook sniveling when someone criticizes him or Kazmierski. So, after being introduced at next Wednesday’s NRB meeting, maybe Kroll should drawl, “Are we having fun yet?”


To be clear, deer hunting never stopped being fun for most of us, and no one ever claimed managing the public's deer is one colossal fun fest.


But let’s put that aside and hope Kroll and the NRB have a fruitful exchange. A good place to start is the “white paper” Kroll sent the Board in November 2016. That report included his “strong recommendation” for increased research into genetic manipulation of deer to “reduce CWD impacts.”


Hmm. Kazmierski must not have been wearing his science-translator cap that year. Alarms should have blared. Kroll hadn’t said anything so unscientific since declaring in 2007 that CWD rates in wild deer herds would never exceed 2%.


Consider these comments from Professor Krysten Schuler, a wildlife disease ecologist at New York’s Cornell University. In this summer’s issue of “Quality Whitetails” magazine, Schuler doubted CWD will be controlled through selective breeding, inside or outside captive facilities.


“I doubt we’re going to breed our way out of this problem,” Schuler said. “It’s a pie-in-the-sky hope. No one has documented a deer surviving CWD, so no one has a truly CWD-resistant deer. Some deer take longer to get CWD, and they might live longer once they get it, but they still get CWD, and it still kills them. So how can anyone say they can selectively breed more of something that doesn’t already exist?”


To his credit, Kroll’s 2016 paper ended with these statements: “The Wisconsin DNR has done a pretty good job of handling the situation since 2011, but has not done a good job publicizing what they are doing!”


He went on: “The greatest criticism I have regarding implementation of the Deer Trustee Report is that they have not developed the rapid response team to deal with new CWD cases outside the CWD Zone.”


Good for him, but whose fault is that? Kroll’s original report said the DNR must strike quickly when detecting a new CWD outbreak by setting up a perimeter, and quickly shooting enough deer to scientifically gauge the disease’s presence. The 2012 report criticized waiting till fall hunting seasons to collect the samples, stressing that “dealing with wildlife diseases is not unlike responding to wildfires.”


But the Kaz Plan knows better. The NRB hasn’t even allowed mandatory testing during hunting seasons to assess CWD outbreaks. And when a citizens committee worked with the DNR to impose mandatory testing around Eau Claire and Chippewa counties in 2019, Kazmierski and the NRB killed the plan without public discussion.


Amazingly, that knife in the back came after the DNR held a press conference with the citizens to announce and publicize the plan.


Kroll should ask The Translator on Aug. 10 to explain why he has ignored Kroll’s “greatest criticism,” and tell everyone why it’s good to give CWD more breathing room.


Let’s hope Kroll also updates his 2016 white paper where he downplayed CWD’s spread. He nitpicked reports that 18 Wisconsin counties had CWD that year, noting that only 13 counties found active cases in 2016. Yes, CWD was found in five other counties in previous years, but not in 2016. He didn’t mention, of course, that CWD testing tumbled to record lows from 2011 to 2016, which likely affected the findings.


Kroll also said CWD was really only a problem in three counties: Dane, Iowa and Sauk; ignoring research by the U.S. Geological Survey in Madison that CWD was rising.


A little perspective: When the Deer Czar was crowned in 2012, the percentage of CWD-positive samples was 14.3% in Iowa County, 6.3% in Dane, and 5.2% in Sauk. Richland County trailed at 3%.


In 2016, while Kroll nitpicked, CWD-positive tests hit 25% in Iowa County, 20.3% in Sauk, 13% in Richland, and 7.3% in Dane. And in 2021, CWD-positive tests hit 31% in Iowa County, 25.2% in Sauk, 21% in Richland, and 16.3% in Dane.


Meanwhile, 26 counties in 2021 found CWD in wild deer, and 12 others have found it in recent years. Cumulatively, that’s 38 counties with CWD in wild herds.


Wisconsin awaits how the Deer Czar translates those dismal numbers Aug. 10 for Kazmierski and the NRB.


Wisconsin Deer Czar James Kroll, left, talks with a deer hunter in Hayward during a public meeting in May 2012. — Patrick Durkin photo

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