Chronic wasting concerns escalating

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published July 1, 2002  | July 2002 issue

The plot is thickening for the state regarding the discovery of chronic wasting disease in whitetail deer west of Madison. A total of 18 deer have tested positive for the disease, which is related to mad-cow, and the state is scrambling to respond to what Gov. Scott McCallum has called "the worst animal health crisis in our [state] history."

Different, and sometimes dramatic, proposals are being considered to manage the outbreak. The Department of Natural Resources has suggested total eradication of the deer herd—some 15,000 deer—in a 287-square-mile "hot zone" over a period of months.

One of the biggest obstacles in addressing the problem is a dearth of testing facilities, even for the limited number (under 1,000) of deer killed so far. Worse, there is no field test for the 300,000 deer shot during the state's hunting season. Officials are worried about the economic impact if hunters decide to stay home, and a statewide poll in late May found that 36 percent of the state's 700,000 hunters are considering not hunting. Although no evidence of the disease has showed up in other parts of the state, a public meeting in Rhinelander—200 miles from the hot zone—drew 360 people.

Ron Wirtz