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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Lawmakers Tap Hunters’ Fees to Fund Deer Farm Study

Wisconsin lawmakers proved again last week that we can count on them to do the preposterous after rejecting more rational ideas for tackling chronic wasting disease.

Then again, the Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Tony Evers hasn’t exactly swamped legislators with insightful programs and action plans it quietly crafted and hid for eight years from the science-denying Walker administration.

In case you missed it, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on June 11 adopted a motion to flush $100,000 of hunter-generated fees into research aimed at creating a strain of white-tailed deer that’s genetically immune to CWD. The money would be controlled by the DNR, but the research likely won’t benefit the hunting public, which funded it with fees from bonus antlerless deer tags.

Privately owned deer ranches will more likely benefit if researchers somehow breed this new whitetail genotype. Under that unlikely scenario, deer ranchers could one day sell the state genetically engineered super whitetails to replace our inferior wild strains. Either that or more of us would pay deer ranchers to sit inside their 8-foot high-wire fences to shoot their genetically modified organisms, complete with artificially enhanced antlers.

Meanwhile, the JFC dismissed a proposal to publicly fund dumpsters so hunters have convenient places to dump deer bones after butchering or boning out their venison. A report prepared by Doug Duren of Cazenovia, and Elizabeth and Mitch Baker of La Valle, outlined two options to reduce the spread of CWD-causing prions by keeping deer bones off the landscape.

Their proposal called for placing up to six dumpsters in each of the 26 counties with confirmed CWD cases, as well as nine neighboring counties. Based on dumpsters they rented with private donations for Sauk and Richland counties in 2018, Duren and the Bakers estimated the state could rent 210 dumpsters at $900 each for a total of $189,000 this fall.

Duren thinks if Wisconsin is serious about controlling CWD, it shouldn’t stop there. He argues that areas with no evidence of CWD could help keep it that way by giving hunters convenient places to dump deer bones. Likewise, instead of worrying where deer bones travel in hunters’ truck beds, the DNR could focus instead on where they end up. The cost of placing six dumpsters in all 72 counties would be $388,800.

Meanwhile, Gov. Evers, DNR Secretary Preston Cole, and some DNR staff continue to sit, watch and whine about the Republicans’ indifference to CWD. In contrast, Gov. Evers has galloped around like Don Quixote the past six months, jousting with legislators to demand better roads, schools, healthcare and clean water.

The least Evers could do is demand Cole get his agency to quit acting as if Cathy Stepp still runs things. Cole should assemble his top wildlife administrators, tape a map of Wisconsin’s 2018 CWD sampling areas to the wall, and make them explain why they got only 46 deer samples from the 10-mile radius centered on an infected game farm in Oconto County, and 84 samples from the 10-mile radius around an infected game farm in Eau Claire County.

He should also ask if the agency’s surveillance efforts provide scientific assurance CWD isn’t likely on landscapes with these totals:

-- 222 samples from three overlapping circles around infected game farms in Marathon, Shawano and Waupaca counties, for an average of 74.

-- 90 samples around an infected game farm in Marinette County;

-- 149 samples around an infected game farm in Oneida County.

Then Cole should ask how the DNR is addressing these isolated 10-mile circles with CWD in wild deer:

-- 123 samples, with 10 CWD cases in Adams County.

-- 89 samples, with two cases in southern Portage County.

-- 144 samples, with two cases in Juneau County.

-- 241 samples, with two cases in Eau Claire County’s Chippewa Valley.

-- 355 samples, with one case in Lincoln/Oneida counties.

One would hope Cole is especially concerned with that apparent 8% infection rate in Adams County. Infections that high suggest an established disease, and it’s well outside CWD’s core area.

Cole has reasons to be concerned by his agency’s performance. In contrast, Michigan’s DNR asked hunters last fall to provide 15,035 deer samples from 16 counties in or near its CWD zone, and instead they gathered 24,475 in that area and 30,751 statewide; all voluntarily.

For perspective, Wisconsin thought it did well to collect 17,244 samples voluntarily statewide last fall.

And in Minnesota, the agency gathered over 8,600 samples from hunters in Crow Wing County during the 2017 and 2018 deer seasons after CWD popped up on a deer farm near the county’s center two years ago. When a lone doe turned up dead with CWD this winter, the agency already had a good data base for the area.

Cole must ask why his DNR can’t get similar cooperation from Wisconsin’s deer hunters. Must he show them himself how it’s done? Or should he bus them to Minnesota for lessons?

Minnesota set up six mandatory check stations around Crow Wing’s surveillance area and 23 more in its southeastern CWD zone the past two gun seasons, primarily at rest stops, fairgrounds and well-known check-station sites from the era of in-person registration. Despite the fact hunters could still register their deer online, 92% showed up to provide CWD samples.

Michigan imposed mandatory testing in two counties with CWD in 2017, but didn’t make testing mandatory anywhere in 2018.

Granted, Minnesota and Michigan are relative newcomers to CWD. Maybe their hunters haven’t grown cynical and complacent after 18 years of fears, frustrations, apathy and low expectations from the DNR and legislators.

But if Cole can’t soon inspire hunters’ help in tackling CWD, Evers will have to answer for more GOP transfers of hunters’ wealth to deer ranchers for GMO research or other follies.

Wisconsin’s captive-cervid industry is poised to benefit from $100,000 in DNR-funded research from fees paid by the state’s deer hunters. — Patrick Durkin photo

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