WI Governor McCallum grilled about deer disease

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May. 17, 2002  

McCallum grilled about deer disease

State legislature passes bill to help wildlife officials stop its spread

BY FREDERIC J. FROMMER, ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- A Democratic congressman pointedly asked Republican Gov. Scott McCallum at a hearing Thursday why Wisconsin didn't do more to keep a fatal deer disease out of the state.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agriculture Department stressed that no decision has been made on the state's emergency request for $4 million to combat the disease, a day after a USDA official told a Wisconsin congressman that prospects didn't look good.

At Thursday's hearing, Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health, cited memos from 1998 to and from state officials raising the possibility of chronic wasting disease being introduced to the state by game farm animals.

An April 17, 1998, memo from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to the Wisconsin state veterinarian put the state on notice that an elk from a herd that been diagnosed with the brain disease had been sold to a farm in Wisconsin.

And on Sept. 15 of that year, Steven Miller, an administrator with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, urged then-DNR Secretary George Meyer to ban the importation of all game animals to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease to the state.

"I'm having a hard time figuring out how a state like Wisconsin, that is so dependent on the integrity of its food industry to its economy, would not have responded quicker and in a more effective way to this infestation,'' said Inslee, asserting that state officials did not test for the disease.

McCallum, who was lieutenant governor at the time, said animals were tested and none were positive.

"I can tell you that we have rules in place in Wisconsin,'' McCallum said. "Game farming is a very important business, and the wild herds are very important to us.''

"Our concern,'' Inslee replied, "is that states may be too interested politically in the game farm industry,'' which resulted "in the infection of a public asset, which are the wild herds.''

After deer tested positive in Wisconsin this year, the state banned imports of deer and elk from other states unless they came from herds that have been free of the disease for at least five years.

The Wisconsin Legislature, meeting in special session, passed a bill early Thursday allocating $4 million in state money and approving sweeping new powers for Wisconsin wildlife officials in their fight to stop chronic wasting disease.

Both houses passed separate bills late Wednesday, but lawmakers worked past midnight to settle their differences. The Assembly voted 89-6 for the final bill, and the Senate passed it on a voice vote. Republicans control the Assembly 55-43, while Democrats control the Senate 18-15.

The bill would:

Permit wildlife officials or sharpshooters to hunt deer from roadsides and from helicopters or other vehicles.

Allocate $900,000 to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create the first lab in Wisconsin capable of testing for the disease.

Give the DNR authority to regulate recreational feeding of deer.

Allow state agriculture officials to kill deer kept on game farms in the eradication zone in the southwest for testing. The bill would set aside about $40,000 to reimburse game farm owners.

Until a few years ago, wasting disease was thought to be limited to Colorado. Now it has been found in captive and wild deer in seven other states and Canada, but Wisconsin is the only place east of the Mississippi River where it has been found.

In his testimony, McCallum urged the federal government to take a more active role in combating the disease, saying it is threatening Wisconsin's way of life.
 


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