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Wisconsin panel finalizes wasting disease recommendations




MADISON, Wis. — An advisory committee working on revisions to Wisconsin’s long-term chronic wasting disease plan wrapped up its work Wednesday, finalizing recommendations that include limited culling of the state’s herd and stiffer regulations for captive deer farms.

The panel adopted around 60 suggestions. Chief among them is a call for the “targeted culling” of deer on public and private land where the state Department of Natural Resources can gain access. The recommendation doesn’t define targeted culling, raising questions about whether the committee wants to resurrect an abandoned DNR policy of killing as many deer as possible to slow the disease’s spread.

DNR Big Game Section Chief Bob Nack said that’s not the case. He defines the targeted culling as “specific and intentional removal from the population.” George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a committee member, said he takes the term to mean thinning the herd in areas where the disease is highly concentrated.

Many of the other recommendations deal with preventing the disease from spreading between captive deer and wild deer. According to data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, 25 deer on farms tested positive for CWD last year, 45 in 2015 and 11 in 2014. The state is home to 387 farms.

Suggestions include requiring deer farms with CWD-positive animals to put up a double fence or an electric fence, set up biosecurity protocols and establishing unspecified incentives for preventing escapes as well as undefined penalties for allowing animals to get away.

The recommendations also call for consolidating authority to regulate fencing in one agency — currently the DNR regulates fences and DATCP regulates farm operations — and requiring farms to have insurance that covers the state’s costs for recovering escaped animals.

Deer farmers have complained that double fencing would be too expensive and placing new regulations on them isn’t based on any anti-CWD science.

“We don’t need more rules and regulations,” said Joel Espe, a Monticello elk farmer who represents the Wisconsin Deer and Elk Farmers Association on the committee. “We need common sense.”

Meyer acknowledged deer farmers probably aren’t happy with the recommendations but the suggestions are necessary to protect Wisconsin’s wild deer.

The committee did vote to drop a recommendation that the DNR ban rehabilitation of orphaned, sick or injured deer in CWD-affected counties after Meyer warned that not doing so could make the DNR look heartless in the eyes of the public. The panel instead adopted a suggestion to allow rehabilitation in CWD areas as long as the deer is released in a CWD-area, in line with the DNR’s current policy.

Most of the rest of the recommendations mirror points in the existing plan, including a call for a statewide ban on baiting and feeding, supporting CWD research and localized herd reduction efforts to control new outbreaks.

The recommendations go next to the DNR, the Conservation Congress, a group of sportsmen who advise the DNR on policy, and DATCP. The three entities will incorporate the recommendations into a report for the DNR’s board in March. The board will vote on the recommendations but it’s not clear when.

Greg Kazmierski, a DNR board member, said outside the committee meeting that he can live with the recommendations but the DNR will have to do a good job communicating what they mean to people.

“The public’s assuming (the committee) has the silver bullet here and they don’t,” Kazmierski said. “Nobody does.”

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