Chronic wasting disease has leapt into far northwestern Wisconsin despite a decadelong battle to keep the deadly deer ailment contained in the southwestern corner of the state, wildlife officials said Monday, April 2.
Department of Natural Resources Lands Division Administrator Kurt Thiede said test results have confirmed a doe found in the wild just outside Shell Lake last fall was infected.
The discovery threatens to send a new round of shockwaves through Wisconsin’s $1 billion hunting industry and further strain the Department of Natural Resources’ relationship with hunters and landowners who never bought into the agency’s strategies to contain the disease when it first turned up in southern Wisconsin in 2002.
‘This is the DNR and the sportsmen’s worst nightmare,’ said Larry Bonde, vice chairman of the Conservation Congress, a group of sportsmen who advise the DNR on policy. ‘CWD has caused such a stir in the hunting community. The relationship between the DNR and landowners got so damaged. Now moving to a whole new part of the state, it could re-spark some of that discontent’ Chronic wasting disease produces microscopic holes in animals’ brain tissue, causing weight loss, tremors, strange behavior and, eventually, death. It was discovered near Mount Horeb, Wis., in 2002, marking the first time it had been found east of the Mississippi River. Fear of the disease dampened hunting efforts dramatically that year, as 70,000 fewer people purchased hunting licenses than in 2001.
Realizing one of Wisconsin’s signature traditions was in jeopardy, the DNR launched a multimillion-dollar effort to slow the disease’s spread. The agency asked hunters and landowners to kill as many deer as possible in the infection zone, offering discounted licenses and extra seasons and even employing its own sharpshooters.
Many hunters, though, thought the DNR had set an impossible goal and had asked them to slaughter deer for no reason. A 2006 state audit found the deer population in the disease zone had grown since the DNR began its efforts. A report Texas-based deer researcher James Kroll produced for the state last week concluded the eradication plan resulted in a ‘serious erosion’ of public confidence in the agency.
Still, the disease remained contained in southern Wisconsin and license sales rebounded slightly during the rest of the decade as chronic wasting disease faded from the headlines.
Looking to stave off another wave of public anger and fear, DNR officials immediately issued a statement reassuring hunters the agency didn’t plan to make any changes to this fall’s hunting seasons. They promised to begin an intensive sampling effort, collecting deer road kill for testing and asking bow and gun hunters within a 10-mile radius of the doe to turn in tissue samples this fall.