With the finding of CWD in Lincoln County near the Wisconsin River, an intensive sampling area has been set up.
DNR wildlife supervisor Chuck McCullough was on hand at last week’s meeting to answer questions from area residents regarding CWD. He explained the next steps in the process to determine the scope of the problem in the area.
3/3/2018 7:29:00 AM Public information meeting held on CWD finding in Lincoln County Landowners asked to participate in special surveillance hunt
Chronic wasting disease (CWD), an always-fatal brain disease in cervids such as white-tailed deer, was recently found in Lincoln County, just south of Oneida County. As per state statute, this finding resulted in a deer feeding and baiting ban in Lincoln County for three years.
Other counties within a 10-mile radius of the CWD finding are also subject to a ban. In this case, that two-year ban would be in place for Oneida and Langlade counties.
Oneida County was already under a feeding and baiting ban due to positive findings at a game farm in Three Lakes. The new ban resets the clock and extends the end time of that ban. The ban went into effect Feb. 1, meaning Lincoln County will be under a feeding and baiting ban until February of 2021, and Oneida and Langlade County will be subject to a ban until February of 2020. If no other deer test positive for CWD within that time, the ban will be lifted in each county on the appropriate date. Should another deer test positive, the ban will be reset again.
This finding prompted the DNR and local County Deer Advisory Committees (CDACs) to put together a public informational meeting to help area residents learn more about CWD and explain what the DNR has been doing about the disease since the first finding of CWD in the wild herd in northern Wisconsin.
The meeting took place last Thursday night at Tomahawk High School.
DNR wildlife supervisor Chuck McCullough and DNR wildlife biologist Janet Brehm, as well as many other members of the DNR wildlife and enforcement departments, were on hand to answer questions from area residents and provide information about the next steps.
'We need to test more'
CWD was found in a buck in Lincoln County, according to Brehm, but the deer looked normal. It did not seem sick, the hunter told her, but he was curious and decided to have it tested. While CWD is always fatal, the signs do not manifest themselves immediately. A deer can have CWD for months before it becomes apparent.
According to McCullough, when a deer tests positive for the disease, there is no doubt that it has the disease. There is never a false positive. A false negative, however, is possible. The test is done on the lymph nodes of an animal, which can only be done on a dead animal. In the very early stages, the disease may not show in the lymph nodes, he said, so a false negative is possible, but not a false positive.
The CWD- positive deer was shot along the Wisconsin River in Lincoln County, DNR officials said.
Once the test came back positive, DNR protocol was followed. A warden spoke with the hunter who killed the deer to determine exactly where the deer was harvested. A review of the chain of command from field to testing lab was conducted to ensure there was no error in which deer was sampled.
From there, the state statue on feeding and baiting was enacted. Intensive sampling was also planned in that area. The Wisconsin River created a unique management situation with the river as a possible line of travel for deer in the area.
"We have management concerns about what's going on on that part of the river," McCullough said. "We don't know. So we want to talk with people about what our plans are and do some sampling along the river this spring."
A sampling area is usually set up as a two-mile circle around where a CWD-positive tested deer was harvested. In this case, that area was modified slightly to include a longer portion of the river, as was shown on a map presented to attendees. A 10-mile surveillance area is also set up around the CWD-positive test. Brehm urged hunters who hunt in that area to get their deer tested.
"We haven't tested a lot of deer in this area for a couple years now," she said. "The fact that we have this positive is concerning. We need to test more. We need to figure this out."
DNR officials need to find out if this is just one deer on the landscape, or if there is a bigger problem, she added.
"Maybe we won't find anything else. Maybe we'll find a lot more. Or maybe something in between," she said. "We don't know."
Statewide testing efforts were strong in 2002 and 2008, she said. A good number of samples were received in those years, but not much testing has been done in the last few years. The department received only five samples from the area around the current positive test over the past two years.
Brehm said she did just receive testing results from five more deer taken in that area this year, and all of those samples came back negative.
While that is encouraging, more sampling needs to be done, she cautioned.
These samples came from two hunters who had their deer heads in their freezers with the lymph nodes still viable. She said hunter cooperation would be crucial in getting enough samples to determine the extent of CWD.
"We need to determine the extent of CWD, share this information widely, and collectively determine the appropriate response," Brehm said. "These are the things we need to think about what we're learning and what we need to think about going forward."
Focusing sampling efforts on a close proximity to the positive test would be very important, she added.
She asked people to be calm and assume nothing until more samples could be taken. While she, too, was shocked initially, it was too early to create a panic over the disease, she said.
Collection of samples within the 10-mile radius, even from a car-killed deer, now become very important, she explained.
The DNR issues nuisance permits as well as agricultural damage permits. The cities of Tomahawk and Rhinelander have nuisance permits, she said, and she will make testing of those deer in Tomahawk mandatory as a condition of that permit. She said any agricultural permits in that area will also include a requirement to submit to testing. These numbers, she said, would be fairly low, likely less than 30 deer in the area for which she is responsible. For that reason, she was looking to engage landowners in getting more samples.
The DNR is looking to harvest 75 deer to be tested in the month of March. From Hat Rapids Dam to Kings Town Hall along the river, she said.
In that 27-square-mile area, land owners will be asked to take surveillance permits and harvest deer in that area. With 75 samples, Brehm said they could get a much better handle on the extent of CWD in Lincoln County and the area surrounding the recent positive . She hopes to find no more positives, which happened in Washburn County after a positive was found.
Rather than wait for the fall hunt, Brehm said the department thought it would be prudent to start sampling immediately to get a better idea of what was on the landscape and how best to move forward.
The sampling will not be expanded to public lands at this time. Limited and well-distributed permits will be issued to private property owners.
Protocol for positive tests
Lincoln County CDAC chairman Nick Schertz said he understood why the sampling would take place in March rather than waiting for the fall hunt.
His hope was for landowners to get involved and harvest the required 75 deer. While that would take those deer out of the population, he said, he would rather see this than see more antlerless permits pushed on the county for the deer hunting season.
If enough samples are obtained in March, he hopes there will be less of a push to allow more antlerless harvest in an area that was still attempting to build its deer herd.
Some concerns were raised by attendees that positives on deer farms are treated the same as positives in the wild herd.
Brehm said she agrees these were two different things and perhaps a positive on a deer farm should not subject the entire area to a baiting and feeding ban. However, state statute reigns supreme on the issue.
Game farms, she pointed out, are regulated by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The DNR only has control over fencing of those facilities.
Brehm addressed the feeding and baiting ban due to the positive test. CWD is spread in several ways, but it is known to be spread through saliva, she said. For that reason, baiting and feeding bans are enacted to help reduce unnatural concentrations of deer.
Brehm also addressed concerns about ending feeding of deer in February.
For the most part, she said, how deer go into winter is the determining factor as to whether or not they make it through. She said this winter had been fairly mild and, although she understands the concerns mentioned, the deer should come through the rest of the winter in good health. She noted that deer do not eat as much as people think in the winter, and that the preceding fall is where the difference is usually made, especially in a milder winter such as this one.
No matter how people feel about the ban, they are required by state law, she reiterated.
She urged those in attendance to call their legislators if they would like to see that statute changed.
Brehm ended the evening with a plea to landowners in that intensive sampling area, asking them to get involved. She said she hopes she will find several land wners to work with who would agree to harvest deer in the month of March to be tested for CWD.
This way the department can get a better grasp on what is going on with the disease and what the next steps should be.
Surveillance in the area will likely continue for several years, she added. Those landowners in the surveillance area are urged to contact their local wildlife biologist to get involved in the sampling effort.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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