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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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October 24, 2017

9/30/2017 7:28:00 AM
Fish like a girl
CWD testing will still be low in Wisconsin

I know I will get some heat for this once again, but I need to point it out. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a big deal. It kills deer. There is no known cure. We know some things about it, such as how it can be transmitted. We have taken a step or two to help reduce the transmission - we have banned baiting and feeding in counties where the disease has been found, and banned the same in neighboring counties. Of course, that has been controversial. Deer are social animals and they yard up in the winter. So they are going to be in contact with one another anyway. People can still have food plots, and that is yet another argument. Why can one person not feed the deer but another person can have a food plot? I am not going to go into all of that here, but yes, there is a difference.

So, we have CWD. We have had CWD for a while. It is now affecting us in the Northwoods due to several deer on a game farm testing positive for the disease. "But that is not in the wild herd!" is the exclamation I have heard too many times to count. But, the people saying CWD is not in the wild herd are the same people that want deer farms double-fenced to keep those "dang captive disease-ridden deer" away from the wild herd. Does that make sense?

Now, before anyone gets up in arms about that "disease-ridden" comment, or starts believing in it, let us look at testing of wild versus captive deer. Every captive deer that dies or is killed on a farm has to be tested. It is the law. How many of our wild deer are tested? A very small portion. We hear that road kill deer "could be" tested, yet every deer I have seen hit by a vehicle this year has sat on the side of the road until it blows up. I can put several on a map that are now nothing more than skeletons, and not all of them even complete skeletons. We hear hunters are "encouraged" to have their deer tested. But are they, really? If you are a hunter who likes to bait deer, or a Regular Joe who likes to feed deer in your yard, where is your incentive to have your deer tested? With the new law, if a CWD-affected county does not have another positive test within 36 months the feeding and baiting ban will be lifted. In counties that are within the 10-mile radius of a county where the disease was found has no new positives, their ban will be lifted in 24 months.

So, for those who want to bait and feed, there is absolutely no incentive. It is completely optional. Both Michigan and Minnesota, on the other hand, have made it mandatory in some Deer Management Units (DMUs) to have all deer tested. In the units they consider CWD Management Zones, every deer that is killed during the season must be brought to a testing station within 72 hours of it being harvested. In Minnesota, for the first two days of the gun-deer season, this mandatory testing is extended even further. The email I received does not stipulate, but makes it sound as though testing will be mandatory statewide for those two days. Mandatory. And yet, here we sit, asking if hunters would please, if you want the time, or the desire, or if it is not too much trouble, could you please maybe bring your deer in to have it tested? We are definitely not taking this problem seriously. We know what deer hunting brings in to our economy, but we simply do not care. It is a fatal disease. There is no cure. Will it simply "run its course?" I suppose that could be debated, but it does not seem likely. Once it is in the environment, the prions that cause the disease can linger for decades. It has been 16 or 17 years since the DNR bought a farm known to have CWD - and prions can still be found in the soil there. To me, at least, that does not sound like a disease that will "run its course" and go away.

Is there a threat to humans? We do not know. But we cannot say the chances are zero. A new study in Canada, that is still under peer review, I believe, looked at Macaque monkeys, the closest human-related primate on which such research is legal, and if those monkeys were able to contract CWD by eating tainted meat, why not humans? Over three years, the monkeys were fed the equivalent of a 7-ounce steak per month. Some monkeys were injected intracranially as well with the disease. Three of the five monkeys fed the tainted meat were later found to have contracted CWD. Those who were cranially injected also became infected. While this research is not conclusive - it does not definitely say, "Yes, humans can be infected," the shadow of doubt has certainly become longer and deeper with this study.

With that said, is this a good time to become more lackadaisical in our efforts to test for, and to understand, CWD? Personally, I think it is a horrible time to become complacent. I understand there is the CWD/predator study going on in the southwestern part of the state. I know there is research and other things going on. I just think we need some mandatory testing for the disease. Will it be a pain? Probably no more than taking a deer to an in-person registration station was, right? I would be interested to hear readers' thoughts on this.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2017
Article comment by: JOHN MCCONNELL

You are correct, it is a big deal and a threat to the long term viability of deer hunting in WI. However, the leadership of the DNR has chosen to ignore or downplay this issue. The editor of this paper is far too busy blasting the hard working scientists at the DNR (those few that remain) to have noticed. Brave of you to write this column given his bent view of conservation.

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