Wisconsin's deer problem is chilling


Mar 11, 2001
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Posted May 05, 2002

Chris Havel, Green Bay Press Gazette

State’s deer problem proves chilling

It doesn’t take a degree in wildlife biology to know the situation is whacked.

The chronic wasting disease afflicting south-central Wisconsin’s deer population may be nothing more than Mother Nature’s way of thinning the herd. Or it could be the catalyst that triggers the demise of still another of this state’s natural resources.

The experts aren’t sure where this disease is headed, and here’s hoping it isn’t to the north and the east, although that’s probably wishful thinking. Judging by the stories, this twisted relative of “Mad Cow Disease” is easier to identify than it is to eradicate.

Earlier this week, the DNR couldn’t guarantee it can successfully manage the disease. It also couldn’t guarantee venison from future harvests will be safe to eat.

As someone who enjoys venison, or should I say used to enjoy venison, this is grim news. I have hunted in the south-central part of the state on an uncle’s land along the Wisconsin River, and I fear it may never be the same.

Should we worry?

My uncle tells me not to worry. The neighbors, he says, act a little strange from time to time, but the deer seem perfectly normal. He intends to eat the venison already stowed in his deep freeze and whatever venison he harvests during the gun season.

He is a brave man, but the next time we dine together, rest assured the only thing I will ask him to pass is the potatoes.

If you dislike venison, have no interest in hunting and dread the possibility, or worse, the memory of a car-deer collision, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Good. There’s too many deer anyway. Shoot them and let the DNR sort out the carcasses.”

That’s fine if you exist in a vacuum. But on some level, at least, all of us should be curious as to what’s going on, if not downright concerned by it.

Consider the fate of an infected deer. It drops weight at a rapid rate, displays abnormal behavior, loses bodily functions and dies. In other words, it acts like way too many of the Packers’ first-round draft picks, except for the part about dying, which is left to the fans, coaches and personnel staff.

We laugh off our fears

That isn’t to make light of the disease. On the contrary, the Packers reference is merely a modest reward for any football fans still reading this far down. The truth is, chronic wasting disease is scary stuff.

This isn’t James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Deerslayer.”

This is Stephen King’s version.

While there is no evidence to suggest the disease is related to the chemicals and pollutants being pumped into Wisconsin’s great outdoors, I can’t help but think we take way too much for granted. When deer start glowing in the dark, it’ll be too late.

Meantime, we have to rely on the experts who believe the best way to control chronic wasting disease is to reduce the size of the herd and ban feeding.

I wish them luck. It appears they’ll need it.

Chris Havel can be reached by voice mail at (920) 431-8586.

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