Deer

A state representative wants to set time limits on deer feeding bans that are aimed at controlling the accelerating spread of a fatal disease through Wisconsin's herd.

Racine Journal Times archives

As state officials near the end of nearly a year of discussion about new ways to slow a deadly disease spreading through Wisconsin’s deer herd, a state representative has introduced a bill to limit one regulation currently being used to control the illness.

The bill introduced this month by Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, would place time limits of two to three years on deer feeding bans.

Under current state law there are permanent feeding bans around each place where the disease has been detected. Most of the state’s 72 counties are affected. An advisory committee composed of hunters groups, veterinarians and others has been divided on whether the ban should be extended statewide in a new effort to control the disease.

The protein that causes chronic wasting disease is most likely to spread when deer come in contact with each other. The bans are intended to reduce contact around feed piles put out by people who want to shoot or watch the animals.

The indestructible CWD protein can be spread through bodily fluids or excrement. It remains in the soil indefinitely, scientists told the committee that began meeting in October to advise state Department of Natural Resources on possible revisions to state policy.

A 2016 DNR staff review cited budget constraints and “social/political factors” as contributing to shortcomings in meeting goals established in 2010 to control CWD including a failure to ban feeding statewide.

After the disease was first detected in Wisconsin in 2002, the state spent millions trying to reduce the herd in the main infection area near Mount Horeb. But hunters and landowners resisted the eradication strategy, saying it was impractical and a waste of deer. By 2010, the state adopted a 15-year plan focused mostly on monitoring the disease.

Dozens of recommendations created by the committee have been reviewed by county deer advisory councils across the state. DNR staff planned to discuss the recommendations with the department’s policy board, the Natural Resources Board, when it meets Wednesday.

DNR big game management section chief Bob Nack said the department would receive guidance from the board on next steps to be taken in revising the department’s CWD response plan.

Jarchow said in an email Thursday that he wasn’t concerned about his bill short-circuiting the study and discussion by DNR staff, the NRB, the committee and the county advisory councils.

He and another northern Wisconsin legislator, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, have taken an aggressive stance toward the DNR. In January they issued a statement saying they will keep trying to roll back regulations because they believe it’s a way to create jobs in their districts.

When Jarchow introduced the 2015 version of the bill, just 35 counties had feeding bans. As the disease has been detected in new places, the number has grown to 43.

At that time, Jarchow said it could be a fluke if just a single case is confirmed in a new area. But scientists told the DNR citizens committee that because the state’s efforts to test deer carcasses have dwindled, the infection has probably spread more extensively than confirmed cases indicate.

This year’s Assembly Bill 61, and its Senate counterpart, SB 68, include the same provisions as the 2015 proposal: limit bans to three years in counties where the disease has been detected, and two years in counties considered affected because they are within 10 miles of a confirmed case. In a fiscal estimate released Wednesday, the DNR said enactment of the bill could affect where the department focuses efforts to test carcasses.

Jarchow is the representative who said in December he would introduce a bill this year to scatter DNR programs among two new state departments and three existing ones because the agency “is just not working in its current form.” State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald recently said there isn’t support for breaking up the DNR.

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Steven Verburg is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal covering state politics with a focus on science and the environment as well as military and veterans issues.