Wisconsin DNR proposes drastic cut in deer herd


Mar 11, 2001
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DNR plans drastic cut in deer herd

Expanded hunt proposed to eradicate brain disease

By MEG JONES of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff

April 18, 2002

Frightened about the potential of a fatal brain disease spreading like wildfire through the deer population, the state aims to drastically reduce the herd to one-tenth its present size in the infected area and "radically" change hunting regulations in 10 counties, officials said Thursday.

Guns could be used in a 14-week general hunting season and additional hunting permits would be available to landowners in the area throughout the year, under the proposals being considered by the Department of Natural Resources to combat chronic wasting disease.

"We're sort of like the Alamo," said DNR spokesman Greg Matthews. "We want to make a stand here and eradicate it and prevent it from spreading."

Other options the DNR is considering include banning deer feeding and baiting for hunting and establishing a deer-hunting season from Oct. 24 to Jan. 31 in the 10-county area.

"I can't think of anything bigger that we've been involved in," Matthews said Thursday.

"We believe this is very, very, very serious. The biggest job that we have now is to educate the public as to how serious it is. It's already jumped the Mississippi River. We didn't think (that) would happen," he said.

Just how many deer would be killed and how a hunt would be organized are unknown.

The state is taking the steps to help curb a mysterious disease that some fear could threaten deer hunting in Wisconsin, which is a vital part of the state's heritage and economy. Every fall, about 700,000 hunters head to the woods to take part in the state's 10-day hunting season, pumping at least $230 million into the local economy.

Reducing herd is key
Because scientists don't know how chronic wasting disease is transmitted, wildlife biologists recommend reducing the deer herd within 13 deer management units in south-central Wisconsin.

To achieve that, here's what the DNR is considering:

Reducing the deer population drastically within the 415-square-mile area near Mount Horeb where 13 deer have tested positive for the disease - three during the fall hunt and 10 so far from 505 deer sampled. By drastic, wildlife officials mean cutting the number of deer per square mile from an estimated 40 to 50 animals down to less than five.
Reducing deer populations below carrying capacity outside that core area but within the 10-county area, the so-called chronic wasting disease management zone. Carrying capacity is the number of deer that can be supported by the habitat.
Banning baiting for hunting and deer feeding in the management zone if the Legislature gives the DNR authority to do so.
Establishing a deer season from the first day of the October Zone-T hunt, which starts Oct. 24 this year, through Jan. 31 in the management zone. A Zone T hunt is a special hunt in deer management units where there is an overpopulation of deer. Landowners in that area could hunt and could issue harvest tags to hunters of their choice beyond that special season.
Allowing all weapons, including handguns, bows, muzzleloaders, rifles and shotguns to be used during the special hunting season. Blaze orange clothing would be required for all hunters except waterfowl hunters during the hunt.
Setting bag limits that would include one of the following: unlimited either-sex tags; one either-sex tag, unlimited antlerless tags and additional buck tags for each antlerless deer registered; or requiring shooting an antlerless deer before shooting a buck with no limit.
Before making any decisions on what steps to take, the DNR will hold five public meetings across the state next month to present information and answer questions about the disease.

The suggestions are very unusual in Wisconsin, where hunting regulations change occasionally but never to this extent.

"I've never heard of these type of recommendations made by the DNR in the past, but this whole (chronic wasting disease) is an extreme situation and calls for extreme measures," said Dave Hawkey, vice president of field operations for Whitetails Unlimited.

"I'm not sure what other options we have right now. It's important to contain it now. The whole situation is scary," Hawkey said.

Feeding, baiting a concern
The DNR is considering barring feeding and baiting of deer in the management zone to lessen the chances for deer to congregate and spread the disease through the herd, said DNR veterinarian Julie Langenberg. Scientists aren't sure how the disease - similar to mad cow disease - is transmitted from animal to animal, but density is a likely cause.

Ideally, the DNR could attempt to kill every whitetail deer in the core area where the disease has been found.

"If our stated goal is to try to eliminate chronic wasting disease from the state, then, yes, the best approach is to take the population in that cluster down to as close to zero as possible," Langenberg said.

Although bucks could migrate back into the area, does typically stay where they were born.

"Part of the strategy is to reduce deer numbers, which may assist in decreasing deer coming back in the area," Langenberg said.

Deer population unknown
Matthews didn't know how many deer are estimated to be roaming in the 13 management units of the chronic wasting disease management zone.

Landowners and sharpshooters shot 505 deer in a 10-mile radius of the area where three deer killed last fall tested positive for the disease. In that 415-square-mile area near Mount Horeb, the DNR estimated the deer population at 20,000.

So far, results of 439 of the deer killed for testing showed 10 were infected with the deadly disease in addition to three killed during the fall hunt. Results from the final deer collected are expected next week.

Getting enough hunters to head into the woods in the chronic wasting zone management area may be a tough sell, particularly if hunters are uncertain about eating the meat. There's no evidence that chronic wasting disease can infect humans, but the DNR has cautioned people who killed deer in the infected area not to eat the brain, spinal cord, spleen and lymph nodes.

The DNR recognizes its effort to eradicate chronic wasting disease won't work without the cooperation of hunters and landowners, Langenberg said.

"We understand as part of our strategy, we need to address ways to make hunters feel comfortable about harvesting deer, which means increasing capacity for testing with the hope that we can provide test results on as many deer as possible," Langenberg said.

Meetings Set

The Department of Natural Resources will hold five public meetings across the state next month to present information and answer questions about chronic wasting disease. Meetings will be held at 7 p.m. on the following dates:

May 1: Mount Horeb High School, 305 S. 8th St., Mount Horeb.
May 8: Eau Claire Memorial High School, 2225 Keith St., Eau Claire.
May 14: Rhinelander High School, 315 S. Oneida Ave., Rhinelander.
May 15: Waukesha County Expo Center Arena, 1000 Northview Road, Waukesha.
May 16: Southwest High School Auditorium, 1331 Packerland Drive, Green Bay.

For more information, visit the DNR's Web site at http://www.dnr.state.wi.us


We're sort of like the Alamo. We want to make a stand here.

- Greg Matthews,
DNR spokesman


Facts about chronic wasting disease, which was discovered in three white-tailed deer shot in November in south-central Wisconsin:

It's a neurological disease that attacks the brains of infected deer and elk. It belongs to the family of diseases known as prion diseases. Mad cow disease also is a prion disease.

The disease causes the animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions and die.

The only available test for the disease requires brain tissue, which cannot be collected from live animals.

A World Health Organization panel of experts has reviewed all the available information on the disease and concluded there is no scientific evidence that it can infect humans.
However, the organization says any part of a deer or elk with evidence of the disease should not be eaten by people or animals.

There has never been an instance of people contracting a prion disease from butchering or eating meat from an animal infected with chronic wasting disease.

The disease poses no threat to cattle or sheep.

For more information on the disease, visit http://www.dnr.state.wi.us

Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources


Well-known member
Aug 20, 2002
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Just heard on the news that the DNR wants to kill all the deer in a 280 square mile area.  They're planning on using helicopters (as well as relying on landowners) to harvest the deer.

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