CWD SHOT show

A meeting convened Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017 by the National Deer Alliance agreed that chronic wasting disease threatens the nation’s elk, deer and moose herds, and therefore, recreational hunting.

PATRICK DURKIN, For the State Journal

LAS VEGAS – Wildlife-agency biologists, national conservation groups and hunting-industry representatives who met Wednesday at the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoors Trade Show agreed chronic wasting disease poses a major threat to the nation’s elk, moose, mule deer and white-tailed deer herds.

The SHOT Show attracts more than 64,000 professionals from the shooting, hunting, outdoors and law-enforcement industries from all 50 U.S. states and 100 countries. This year’s SHOT Show features more than 1,600 exhibitors and manufacturers, whose booths cover more than 13 acres laced with 12.5 miles of aisles in the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

Those attending the CWD meeting –- which was convened by the National Deer Alliance -– included wildlife-agency directors from Idaho, Arizona and Wyoming; and representatives of the National Wildlife Federation, Mule Deer Foundation, Archery Trade Association, Quality Deer Management Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

In recognizing CWD’s threat to wildlife, the representatives agreed studies about the disease have been forsaken in recent years. Even so, research remains the No. 1 priority for state and federal agencies hoping to control CWD and ensure the future of big-game hunting. They’re especially worried about CWD’s impact on white-tailed deer, which provides roughly 83 percent of the nation’s recreational hunting.

Further, the group thinks it’s time to take their concerns to Capitol Hill and state legislatures to seek money for more CWD research. State and federal funding for CWD research has plummeted, even as the disease spread to more than 20 states while increasing its range and density in Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Unfortunately, the meeting’s attendees also recognize a catch-22: Even though the NDA provides them a stronger, more unified position than ever to seek research funding from lawmakers nationwide, previous research hasn’t generated clear directions on how science can best address the always-fatal disease. In business terms, we have no “best-management practices” to follow.

This dilemma reminds us that wildlife diseases of CWD’s magnitude require action at government’s highest levels. Recall, for example, a 2003 study by Professor Richard C. Bishop, then chairman of UW-Madison’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, estimated CWD cost Wisconsin hunters roughly $83 million in recreational value in 2002 alone.

In a follow-up interview that year, Bishop said, “When a big part of your population is at risk of losing $70 to $100 million in recreational value every year, it justifies spending public money to come to grips with it.”

Although a study of CWD’s impacts on southwestern Wisconsin’s deer is just getting underway, Bishop said in an interview Wednesday that research into CWD’s economic and sociological impacts remains ignored.

Specifically, we’ve had no economic studies of CWD’s impacts since December 2005, and no “human dimensions” research into CWD’s sociological impacts for at least seven years, according to Jordan Petchenik, a sociologist in the Department of Natural Resources’ bureau of science services.

It’s not as if Wisconsin lacks the expertise for economic- and sociological-impact studies. After all, the conservation group Walleyes for Tomorrow is helping fund a multi-year study of Green Bay’s diverse fishery to estimate its economic impact. A team of social scientists from UW-Whitewater, with help from UW-Green Bay, is conducting the multi-year project.

And it’s not as if we don’t realize fishing’s popularity and recreational value to Green Bay’s region. It creates jobs, generates business and draws anglers near and far much of the year. A similar 2006 study of Lake Winnebago, for example, estimated fishing’s annual economic impact on the region was $234 million and supported 4,500 jobs.

That’s impressive, but what’s the current recreational value of deer hunting in Wisconsin, and how many jobs and how many millions – or billions -- does it generate statewide? Consider all the money spent on arrows, bullets, bows, rifles, riflescopes, binoculars, treestands, gasoline, ATVs, taxidermy, campgrounds, motel rooms, venison sausage, deer processing, trail cameras, camouflage clothing, blaze orange overalls, to name a few. Further, how much of Wisconsin’s ongoing decline in hunting-license sales is caused by CWD worries, and how much of that is sparked by DNR refusals to openly discuss CWD?

Bishop said such governmental lapses aren’t surprising because market economies tend to benefit private enterprise but shortchange public good, including the environment. For example, people want bright, high-definition big-screen TVs, and private incentives generate research to perfect those TVs.

“But when public hunting is jeopardized, private incentives for research aren’t there,” Bishop said. “In the view of most economists, one of government’s main roles is to fill such gaps and make up for things that are important to people but ignored by the market.”

When Bishop studied CWD’s potential impacts 15 years ago, he estimated Wisconsin’s deer herd and recreational hunting is worth more than $8 billion to hunters and people who enjoy having deer around.

“Wisconsinites highly value their deer herd, so it deserves a continuing well-funded research program in biology and ecology to help maintain and enhance it,” Bishop said. “And, no mistake about it, social science to support management is only as good as the biological science that underlies it. It all works together.”

Bishop also notes that private-sector companies know their customers much better than government agencies know theirs. “They have every incentive to do so, and they manage their businesses accordingly,” Bishop said. “But for public goods, like deer and deer hunting, government has to support research so managers understand their ‘customers.’ Wildlife has value, but that value can’t be recognized in management decisions unless government makes a concerted effort to learn its worth.”

Bishop underscored that shortcoming: “What we lack is politicians with interest in the results, and a willingness to fund needed research,” he said. “There is no economic substitute for good government. Economists talk a lot about market failures, but what we’re experiencing now is government failure. Only good government can create a system of mixed capitalism that provides a balance between private goods and public goods.”

In the months and years ahead, let’s hope our private sector’s businesses, industries and conservation organizations help our lawmakers realize their obligations to the nation’s wildlife and outdoor recreation.

Contact Patrick Durkin, a freelance writer who covers outdoors recreation in Wisconsin, at patrickdurkin56@gmail.com or write to him at 721 Wesley St., Waupaca, WI 54981.

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