Aircraft, sharpshooters would be used as last resort in WI cull


Mar 11, 2001
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Aircraft, sharpshooters could be used to kill deer

Aerial assault in chronic wasting disease 'hot zone' seen as last resort

By LEE BERGQUIST of the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel staff

May 2, 2002

Aircraft and helicopters could be used to shoot deer to control the spread of chronic wasting disease in a 287-square-mile area near Mount Horeb, officials said Thursday.

Officials also mapped out plans for killing more deer in a broader area outside of where diseased deer have been found to date.

And there are plans to test as many as 20,000 deer this year - but only if laboratories can be properly outfitted to do the work.

Wisconsin officials were quick to say an aerial assault would be a last resort if hunters were unable to kill 14,000 to 15,000 deer in a "hot zone" - a hilly mix of forest and cropland where 14 deer have tested positive for the fatal disease.

Authorities want to remove the deer within a year.

The Department of Natural Resources and other agencies are hoping that landowners, and hunters they allow on their land, will be able to wipe out virtually the entire population of deer in portions of western Dane, eastern Iowa and southern Sauk counties to contain the disease.

On public land, such as Blue Mound State Park, officials are considering the use of sharpshooters.

Outfitted with night-vision goggles and using floodlights to attract deer, sharpshooters from the DNR and other government agencies could be called on also to work on private land with the owners' consent, the DNR said.
Air shoot a 'last resort'

"(Aircraft) are a potential tool, but it is very much of a last resort," said Tom Hauge, the DNR's director of wildlife management.

If aircraft were used, Hauge said, the state would follow a "very scripted scenario" in which sharpshooters and pilots would first fly on dry runs. Landowners would have to agree to the flights, and precautions would have to be made to keep people out of the area.

"Safety would be the No. 1 job," he said. "Anything like this would require a lot of advance preparation."

Colorado wildlife officials have used aircraft to control the spread of chronic wasting disease there.

"I think it's (aircraft) a tool that has to be considered," said state Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), a member of the Senate Environmental Resources Committee who owns farmland in a part of south-central and southwestern Wisconsin under consideration for an extended deer season this year.

Schultz's concern: Some landowners might be reluctant to let people hunt on their land, making the job of killing enough deer to control the disease that much harder.

"We have a long way to go to educate the public, and we have little time to do it," he said after attending a public meeting on the matter Wednesday night in Mount Horeb. "We can't afford to get bogged down in property rights disputes."

The Mount Horeb meeting - the first in a series of statewide meetings - attracted about 2,000 people.

"For us to be successful, we need landowners to lighten up restrictions," the DNR's Bill Vander Zouwen told the crowd Wednesday. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Vander Zouwen is in charge of developing new hunting regulations for the affected areas.

The DNR could start handing out permits to hunt deer to landowners near Mount Horeb next week.
A growing concern

Wisconsin was the first state east of the Mississippi River to have deer that tested positive for the neurological disease.

There is a growing fear that the disease could decimate the deer herd if it goes unchecked. Farmers and others are concerned that it could jump species and infect livestock. Further, a big outbreak could frighten away sportsmen, wary of eating venison infected with the deer version of mad cow disease.

There is no evidence that the disease can infect humans.

"But we can't assure folks that nothing bad will ever happen," said Sarah Shapiro Hurley, a DNR veterinarian.

On other fronts:

   * The DNR said the deer population in 10 counties surrounding Mount Horeb will have to be cut sharply. The agency says it might have to raise limits to kill more deer so that by the end of the hunting season, the deer population is 50% of the annual population goal. The DNR is considering an extended hunting season totaling 14 weeks in the counties in south-central and southeastern Wisconsin.
   * Officials want to test 6,500 deer that are killed in the 10-county region for the disease. That's 500 deer for each of 13 deer management units in that region.
   * All told, officials could test up to 20,000 deer this year, from both the 10 counties and from deer killed across the state during the fall deer season.

The tests will help the state pinpoint the extent of the problem outside Mount Horeb - if there is any at all. It will also allay the fears of some hunters concerned about the safety of their meat.

But as events quickly unfold, officials are still sorting out details and formulating policies.

For example, the testing will require millions of dollars in funding that is not yet approved. The DNR is seeking a total of $18 million in state and federal dollars to help fight the disease.

Shapiro Hurley said about a dozen individuals or private labs are jockeying to take on some of the testing duties. A key sticking point is developing a rapid test from technology used to detect mad cow disease that must be approved by federal authorities.

It is also not clear what kind of permits will be issued to hunt on land near Mount Horeb.

Also, Shapiro Hurley said, officials are still sorting out details about how deer carcasses will be disposed.

end article


Wisconsin to kill deer by thousands

By Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune staff reporter

May 3, 2002

MT. HOREB, Wis. -- In an unprecedented wildlife management plan, Wisconsin hunters are being asked to wipe out more than 15,000 of the state's treasured white-tailed deer to stop a deadly brain disease from spreading throughout the region.

Beginning Monday, officials will issue special hunting permits to landowners who live in a 287-square-mile eradication zone around Mt. Horeb in southern Wisconsin, where 14 cases of chronic wasting disease have emerged since February. The landowners can do the hunting or allow others to cull deer on their property.

In addition, the traditional nine-day November hunting season will be expanded to October through January to help eliminate all deer in the area.

The stakes of the project are tremendously high in Wisconsin, where deer hunting is a vital part of the state's culture and sporting heritage and contributes more than $1 billion to its economy. There are more than 1 million deer in the state, and deer licenses generate nearly $25 million a year for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

"The two biggest things in Wisconsin are the Packers and deer hunting," said Janice Abram, a hunter from Arena, which is inside the eradication zone. "This is just devastating."

Officials acknowledge the proposal is radical, aggressive and heartbreaking--about 98 percent of the deer are considered healthy. But Wednesday, in the first of five public meetings throughout the state, they stressed that doing nothing could be disastrous.

In Colorado the disease spread for decades before state wildlife officials tried to control it by killing deer, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife veterinarian Mike Miller.

"Hunters face the challenge of their lives," state wildlife biologist Bill Vander Zouwen told a somber crowd of nearly 2,000 people in the Mt. Horeb High School gymnasium. "As a hunter, it's going to be a very emotional time for me personally, but I'm going to keep pulling the trigger because I want things to get back to normal as soon as they can."

Chronic wasting disease, a nervous-system ailment that affects deer and elk, is a prion disease in the same family as bovine spongiform encephalopathy --mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

Although chronic wasting has not been found among Illinois' 750,000 deer, the state Department of Agriculture banned the import of captive deer and elk on April 19 as a precaution. So far, chronic wasting has turned up in wild deer and elk in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska and in captive elk in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Saskatchewan in Canada.

Signs of infection

Its unexpected arrival in Wisconsin marked the first time it was found east of the Mississippi. Now officials in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan are on alert for signs of infected deer, which include abnormal behavior, excessive salivation, thirst and urination, emaciation, teeth grinding, and drooping ears. Symptoms are not usually seen until the animal is at least 18 months old.

"The uncertainty of the disease is why the bans were put into place," said Jeff Squibb of Illinois' Agriculture Department.

Chronic wasting is difficult to get a handle on because research is emerging and scientists don't entirely understand how it spreads. Some believe it's transmitted by animal-to-animal contact, including between a mother and her offspring.

The prion that causes the disease is an abnormal, infectious version of a protein that normally occurs in animals' cells.

"We don't know what causes the prion to change," said James Mastrianni, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Chicago. "That's the million-dollar question."

Prions are also involved in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy found in humans. But although Creutzfeldt-Jakob, mad cow and chronic wasting are members of the same family, they are not identical.

"Even though it's the same protein, there are differences in the amino acid sequence in each species," Mastrianni said.

Species barriers

Currently, there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease can infect humans, but it is likely that at least once in the past prions jumped the species barrier, when bovine prions presumably resulted in the outbreak of a new variant in humans, Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

"They don't know enough about [chronic wasting disease] to know if it can cross species barrier and affect humans," said Mastrianni. "Until answers are in and studies done, [the deer] may be unsafe for human consumption."

Chronic wasting was discovered in Wisconsin in February when three bucks shot by hunters were diagnosed near Mt. Horeb in Dane County. In March and April, landowners and state sharpshooters killed 516 deer in Dane and Iowa Counties in a special hunt. Eleven of those deer tested positive, creating a new sense of urgency.

Despite the ambitious plan to head off the disease, several daunting hurdles remain. The state will need at least $22.5 million over the next three years to hire additional staff, pay for sampling and buy testing equipment, according to Gov. Scott McCallum. Testing samples now are sent to a federal laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

Carcass removal and disposal will be a major chore. Officials plan to put the deer in landfills because incinerators would not be hot enough to kill the prion.

Hunters also have major concerns with the plan; many do not believe in killing something they don't plan to eat. Tim Gattenby of Ridgeway said he would be willing to help if the food could be given to hungry people.

"We all know food pantries are not going to want venison, and no one will want to process it," Gattenby said.

For others, it's not just healthy deer that are threatened but their sense of safety. With the expanded gun season and rifles newly allowed in shotgun areas, the state is asking hikers, bikers and snowmobilers to be alert and lie low.

Last November, seven hunters and a woman who was walking her dogs were killed in hunting-related accidents, making it one of the deadlier seasons in years. At Wednesday's public meeting, Rosemary Wenger, 43, of Vermont Township asked officials whether she will have to wear blaze orange from October through January to avoid getting shot when she goes walking. She lives in the heart of the eradication zone.

"I do walk during hunting season, but I know where my husband is [when he hunts]," said Wenger. "With this, where is everyone going to be? Does this mean I have to quit walking for six months?"

Hunting ethic

Her husband, Don, is not going to help with the massive kill.

"It's not a solution," he said. "I'm done. I bought my license two weeks ago and I'm going to get my money back."

For many hunters and non-hunters, the systematic killing of thousands of deer is simply sickening.

"In hunting there is a certain ethic," Abram said.

"You're always pursuing them in a situation that gives them a chance. You're not just trying to kill deer, you're trying to experience how it lives. Hunting is much more than killing an animal."

Still, if she sees a deer on her property, she will shoot it.

"This is about trying to manage a very, very difficult situation," she said.

end article


Thu, May 2, 2002

First public forum held on DNR's deer disease plans

By Jenny Price

The Associated Press

MOUNT HOREB - State wildlife officials' bitter pill for ridding the white-tailed deer herd of chronic wasting disease - killing as many as deer as possible in the affected area - was greeted with hearty applause Wednesday at a meeting packed with hunters and landowners.

"Hunters are going to have to step up here," Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Bill Vander Zouwen told nearly 2,000 people who gathered at a high school gymnasium in Mount Horeb. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

The city is near where hunters last fall shot three bucks that were the first east of the Mississippi River to test positive for chronic wasting disease.

Wednesday's 21Ú2-hour meeting was the first of five public sessions scheduled by the DNR to explain how state officials plan to deal with the disease, which causes deer to grow thin, act abnormal and die.

The DNR will begin passing out permits next week to landowners in the area where infected deer were found, allowing them and the hunters they allow on their property to shoot thousands of deer in a 285 square-mile area covering parts of Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties.

Not everyone at Wednesday's meeting was convinced.

Susan Michaud of Black Earth, who owns 20 acres in the eradication zone, said there were "way too many question marks" in the DNR's plan to kill up to 90 percent of the estimated 20,000 deer in the area.

But DNR wildlife veterinarian Julie Langenberg said only killing most of the herd in the designated area would ensure the state gets the disease under control.

"If nothing is done about this disease, (we) could see the regional collapse of the deer population," she said.

In Colorado, the disease spread for decades before state wildlife officials attempted to control it by killing deer, Colorado Division of Wildlife veterinarian Mike Miller said at Wednesday's meeting.

"As unpalatable as those things are, the alternatives, I assure you, are far worse in the long term," Miller said.

Three deer hunters from Horicon, Jim Amstadt, 47, John Schwartz, 46, and John Sutter, 46, said they support the DNR plan but aren't sure it will be successful.

"I think they're going to have a dickens of a time shooting all the deer they want to shoot," Amstadt said.

All three said they want the DNR to focus on determining the source of the disease to prevent future outbreaks.

They have hunted on land Sutter owns in the Mount Horeb area but said they want assurances venison from deer in the area is safe to eat before they will have any of it.

"If there's a question, I'm not going to risk it," Sutter said.

In March and April, landowners and DNR sharpshooters killed 516 deer in Dane and Iowa counties in a special hunt. Tests showed 11 of those deer had the disease.

Experts believe the disease is spread by animal-to-animal contact. They also say there is no evidence of the disease being spread to humans.

But Gov. Scott McCallum said Tuesday that the state needs at least $22.5 million over the next three years to hire additional staff to fight the disease, pay for sampling and buy equipment to test for it.

For some who attended Wednesday's meeting, state officials did not have any answers, or at least the answers they wanted to hear.

"Can you give us any clue as to how this disease got here," said Tim Gattenby, a land owner in Ridgeway.

Langenberg said DNR investigators were trying to find out where chronic wasting disease came from, but do not know at this point.

The DNR will have meetings in Eau Claire, Rhinelander, Waukesha and Green Bay in the next few weeks.


Mar 11, 2001
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May 03, 2002

Safety top concern as DNR launches special hunt

By JENNY PRICE / Associated Press Writer

MADISON - Sharpshooters in a state park, gunfire from helicopters and nighttime assaults may be needed in the effort to kill every deer in a 285 square-mile area to halt the spread of a deadly brain disease, officials say.

Because of the potential risk to campers and hikers in Blue Mound State Park, Department of Natural Resources officials likely will limit hunting by DNR sharpshooters in the park to one day a week.

"We don't want any accidents to happen," state parks director Sue Black said.

The DNR is finalizing details for a radical plan to kill an estimated 14,000 to 15,000 while-tailed deer in the area to eradicate chronic wasting disease, a project that DNR officials said may take years to complete.

Tom Hauge, director of wildlife management for the DNR, said Friday the use of helicopters or other aircraft was possible, but only if all other efforts fail to kill enough deer. Landowners would have to approve flights carrying sharpshooters, outfitted with night-vision goggles and using floodlights to attract deer, and safety would be a top priority, Hauge said.

Wildlife officials may decide to send sharpshooters into Blue Mound State Park on Tuesdays, the slowest day of the week, Black said Thursday.

"We know that we have deer on state land," DNR spokesman Bob Manwell said. "It needs to be part of the overall control effort."

The DNR will begin passing out permits next week to private landowners in the area covering parts of Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties in its effort to eliminate the disease that causes deer to grow thin, act abnormal and die.

Those landowners can only shoot deer on their property, not on public land.

While hunters can venture into three dozen state parks during regular deer hunting seasons in October and November, only DNR sharpshooters would be permitted to shoot deer in Blue Mound State Park during the special hunt, Manwell said.

Manwell said DNR officials would work out a plan with the park superintendent that would help eliminate the herd while keeping the disruption to park users at a minimum. He said some areas of the park might be off limits to visitors for short periods of time.

All hunters except those hunting for waterfowl must wear blaze orange during the special hunt. Black said hikers and campers who come to the park won't need special clothing while they walk the trails or spread out picnic blankets on the weekends.

"We're going to make it as safe as possible," she said.

DNR officials are also warning people who use the Military Ridge Trail through the targeted area that hunters will be on nearby land during the coming months.

Black said the agency is posting information at all of the trail's access points, as it did during the special hunt in March and April.

"When there's a whole lot of shooting going on, I don't think that there's much you can do except stay away from the area," said Johanna Solms, president of Bombay Bicycle Club, who planned to tell the club's 350 members about the hunt.

Nearby Stewart County Park is estimated to have at least 100 deer, and some hunting could eventually occur there under the DNR plan, said Darren Marsh, operations manager for the Dane County Parks Department.

"Until they get those deer out of there, everybody's going to have to be careful," said Mount Horeb Village President John Zimmel.

Manwell said DNR sharpshooters could be doing some hunting at night, as they did when they helped kill more than 500 deer in Dane and Iowa counties last month. Tests showed 11 of those deer had the disease.

The practice called shining for deer at night is considered unethical hunting and is commonly used by poachers. It is illegal except for DNR wardens.

In June, the Natural Resources Board will consider modifications in hunting seasons to areas within 30 to 40 miles of the area where the want to eliminate the deer population

Wildlife and health officials believe it's necessary to reduce the number of deer to 10 to 15 per square mile in that zone. One suggestion is allowing deer hunting from October to Jan. 31.

Experts believe the disease is spread by animal-to-animal contact. They also say there is no evidence of the disease being spread to humans.

In other developments, Hauge said:

- Plans are being prepared to kill more deer in 10 counties surrounding the area where diseased deer have been found, reducing the deer population in those counties by as much as 25 to 50 percent by the end of the hunting season this fall.

- Plans call for testing as many deer brains as laboratories can be prepared to handle this year.


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