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Patrick Durkin column: DNR must stop ignoring recommendations on CWD

Feb. 16, 2013
 

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Deer hunters should be happy Gov. Scott Walker included budget items to implement recommendations from the “Deer Trustee Report,” written last year by a three-man team led by professor James Kroll of Texas.

Walker’s budget would establish a Deer Management Assistance Program to set antlerless quotas and improve relations between landowners and the Department of Natural Resources, and hire a DNR staffer to run the program.

Further, the governor wants to update Wisconsin’s satellite imagery technology so biologists can better analyze habitat for deer management decision-making.

The budget also calls for the DNR to sell, rather than give away, antlerless tags where chronic wasting disease is present and use part of those fees to fund more CWD surveillance tests.

For her part, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said the DNR and its conservation partners will ensure Kroll’s suggestions get enacted “to the fullest extent possible.” She concluded: “Together we can solidify Wisconsin as the state for great deer, great hunting and great experiences.”

Great, but to fully implement Kroll’s report, the DNR can’t keep ignoring its recommendations for handling new CWD cases outside southern Wisconsin’s disease management zone. The report, written by Kroll, Dr. Dave Guynn of South Carolina and researcher Gary Alt of California, rebuked the DNR for its passive response to a CWD-infected doe in April 2012:

“The reaction to the Shell Lake infected deer … should have included a faster response to determine the extent of distribution. Waiting until deer season in fall 2012 to sample for CWD is not adequate. ... Once the geographic context is determined, the appropriate action should be focused, localized eradication.”

When 2012 hunting seasons produced four new CWD cases outside the DMZ, did the DNR follow that advice? No. It won’t do any assessments of the new cases in Adams, Portage, Juneau and Waukesha counties until this fall, a year later.

Its tentative plan is to then collect samples from 500 deer in a 10-mile radius around the areas where the sick deer were killed. That’s half as many as were tested around Shell Lake last fall. That 1,000-deer sample failed to find more cases, but that’s no guarantee the sick doe was a fluke. A recent statistical analysis suggests there could be about 10 CWD cases in that area.

Further, Dave Clausen of the seven-citizen Natural Resources Board cautioned the agency Monday not to downplay individual CWD cases, as some did in 2002 when calling Richland County’s lone CWD case “an anomaly.”

In his email to DNR administrators, Clausen wrote: “I believe the same was said for the two found (in Richland County) in 2005. I suppose there are still those that think the 18 in 2012 are also an anomaly.”

Clausen also wrote: “All indications are that under current policy, CWD will continue to spread across the state and will increase in prevalence where it becomes established.”

Therefore, Clausen thinks the DNR and Department of Health Services must do more to inform citizens of ongoing CWD research, and quit reciting a line they’ve used the past 11 years: “CWD has never been shown to cause illness in humans.”

Clausen wrote: “(Federal law dictates that) material from CWD positive deer and elk may not be used in any animal feed. … Why isn’t the same degree of caution necessary regarding human consumption of CWD-positive deer?”

In contrast, Wyoming’s CWD website notes that while science hasn’t linked CWD to human illness, much research remains on whether we’re immune. Further, although CWD prions primarily are found in the brain, tonsils, spleen, spinal cord and lymph nodes of deer and elk, subsequent research found smaller concentrations in the animals’ blood, saliva, muscles, heart and eyes.

As such, Wyoming notes: “Until more is known about the human health risk, individuals may want to consider the theoretical possibility that a yet-to-be-determined human health risk may exist before consuming CWD-infected animals.”

In other words, Wyoming openly shares scientific information in helping individuals decide whether to eat CWD-infected deer. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin DNR downplays CWD’s accelerating spread and prevalence, and joins the DHS in managing what the public hears about possible health risks.

Wisconsin agencies basically say: “Eat up. We’ll worry for you.” Maybe that’s why the DNR has documented more than 1,700 cases the past decade of hunters who kept venison from CWD-carrying deer or didn’t bother waiting for tests that confirmed its presence.

I thought we didn’t trust government agencies to think for us.

Patrick Durkin is a freelance writer who covers outdoors for Press-Gazette Media. Email him at patrickdurkin@charter.net.

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