Wisconsin DNR slow to act on CWD, lawmakers say

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DNR too slow on deer, legislators say

By Anita Weier, Capital Times (Madison)

April 11, 2002

Several state legislators want the Department of Natural Resources to do more about chronic wasting disease - and fast - but department officials say their hands are tied right now.

The deadly, infectious disease has been found in 13 white-tailed deer in the Mount Horeb area of 295 deer that have been tested. Results are still being awaited for the remainder of the 500 deer killed in western Dane and eastern Iowa counties to determine the extent of the problem.

Members of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources grilled DNR official Tom Hauge Wednesday about current efforts to halt the spread of the disease.

He came before the committee to testify about a proposal in the Assembly budget repair bill that would direct the DNR to develop rules that regulate the recreational and supplemental feeding of wild animals for purposes other than hunting. The measure is not in the Senate's proposed budget. A conference committee must resolve differences between the two.

"We've got to stop this feeding until the disease is contained," said Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud, R-Eastman, who authored the measure in the Assembly budget bill.

He accused the DNR of foot-dragging, but Hauge and the committee's attorney both said the agency does not now have the authority to halt deer feeding.

Hauge said DNR officials have said feeding is problematic because it causes deer to congregate, which could help spread the disease.

He added that "the ability to regulate feeding is fundamental," but he was ambivalent about controlling feeding in areas of the state outside of the test area where the disease has been found.

"The no-brainer part is in the diseased area, shut it down. In the rest of the state, there is still a lot of discussion," he said. "We are working with all three agencies - agriculture, wildlife and the university. If the conclusion is that feeding needs to be addressed statewide, we will do that. We will follow the science."

Johnsrud said quick action is needed because people in other states are already hesitant about buying Wisconsin cows because of concern that chronic wasting will somehow spread to cattle, although there is no proof that it can.

"You need to talk about the feeding issue a little more," said Rep. Scott Gunderson, town of Norway. This is a big deal. People are cleaning their freezers and throwing deer out. We have already affected next fall's hunt tremendously. We may have people who only hunt for horns."

Hauge said the DNR understands how serious the matter is. "We have spent a quarter million dollars in time and labor. (But) we can't guarantee we can eradicate this."

But he also did not have answers about how much testing would be done in areas of the state outside the current disease area.

"We will deal with it in the CWD area, however that is defined, based on how far radio-collared deer move," Hauge said. "All of our wardens and biologists have been instructed that if they get a call on a sick animals, they are to go out and get a sample."

Rep. Judy Krawczyk, R-Green Bay, said she would like the DNR to say that people should stop feeding deer for a year or two. She added that if people did not hunt, the DNR would not have revenue from permits.

"We have the ability in most health-related areas to take swift action," said Rep. Mark Miller, D-Monona. "It seems like we have allowed a loophole or a gap with wildlife."

He suggested that the DNR use its bully pulpit to a greater extent in providing recommendations to the public as a whole.

"The Ag Department did it, they closed down the borders," Johnsrud said. "I don't know if they had the authority, but they did it."

Rep. Barbara Gronemus, D-Whitehall, suggested a resolution that all deer killed on Wisconsin highways be tested for the disease.

"Road kill is not the best way to get a good sample," Hauge responded, because the deer are often badly mangled by the vehicles that hit them.
 

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