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Wisconsin Deer Herd: Wasting Away?

Chronic wasting disease continues to take a toll on the Wisconsin deer herd. (twildlife/
Chronic wasting disease continues to take a toll on the Wisconsin deer herd. (twildlife/
December 5, 2016

WAUPACA, Wis. – Wisconsin's annual gun deer hunting season is over, and preliminary figures from the Department of Natural Resources show more than 140,000 deer were taken, about 3,500 fewer than last year.

This year's estimate for percentage of the herd infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD) is not yet in, but last year it hit a record of 9.4 percent of deer tested.

The Wisconsin Division of Public Health says venison from deer taken in one of the many CWD zones in the state should not be eaten until it is tested and the results are negative.

Lifelong outdoorsman Pat Durkin, president of the Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association, says the DNR is downplaying the danger CWD poses.

"I don't think Wisconsin has come anywhere close to instilling and maintaining a sense of urgency,” he states. “We started off with basically a panic back in 2002 and had people really worked up. CWD was on the front pages for weeks and months."

While there is no evidence that CWD has spread to humans, Durkin says the infection rate in the state's deer herd has gone up every year for the past decade, and more should be done to encourage hunters to have the deer they harvest tested for the disease.

The DNR says the present method of voluntary testing is adequate.

Durkin disagrees, pointing out that the DNR didn't even mention voluntary CWD testing until the 33rd page of this year's deer hunting regulations. He maintains that's not the way to approach what he calls a very serious issue.

"Almost acting like it's no big deal, don't worry about it, if it's convenient drop your deer off, but there's no big push to get your deer tested,” he states. “And yet at the same time they're telling people that you shouldn't be eating deer from those areas unless they've been tested first, but they're telling people that in a real low-key manner."

Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Wyoming – other states where deer hunting is popular – are taking a much more stringent approach to testing for CWD.

Durkin says right now CWD is not a threat to humans, but that could change.

"The thing is, though, give it time and diseases tend to adapt and change,” he points out. “And so even though right now we shouldn't be scared, I think down the road it might be. And so I think precaution is wise."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI