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Our Views: State, hunters should not ignore whitetail disease

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November 19, 2013

“One buck deer per unused gun buck deer carcass tag (without bonus buck). Also, one buck deer per unused antlerless or CWD deer carcass tag provided a valid buck authorization sticker is affixed to the back OR an unregistered antlerless deer tagged by the same hunter accompanies the buck deer until both are registered. Also, one antlerless deer per additional unused antlerless or CWD deer carcass tag.”

—State hunting rules for chronic-wasting disease units

More than 600,000 hunters will head to the woods and fields Saturday for Wisconsin's annual gun deer season.

Last week, license sales were running 4 percent ahead of last year's pace. That's great. It's a wonder anyone goes hunting given confusing rules such as those above in zones where chronic wasting disease has infected deer. Can anyone translate?

In a nutshell, a hunter in the CWD zone can shoot a buck without first shooting a doe. A hunter can shoot a second buck by shooting a doe first.

Speaking of that fatal deer disease, more Wisconsin hunters are ignoring the concerns some researchers raise. The state spent vast sums trying to reduce the disease's spread by trimming the herd in regions where the disease was detected. It stopped those in recent years, however, under political and sociological pressure. The DNR also dropped the despised earn-a-buck program, which reduced reproductive potential by requiring hunters to shoot does before targeting bucks.

Now, Wisconsin's wasting disease management zone has spread to 20 mostly southern counties, and the disease infects about 5 percent of the herd, according to a University of Illinois study. In contrast, the study says a culling program has kept the disease prevalence in Illinois at 1 percent, Neil Johnson reported in Monday's Gazette.

The disease involves prions, which are deformed proteins, and is related to mad cow disease, which on rare occasions has killed humans who ate infected beef. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologist Mike Foy told Johnson that more hunters seem unconcerned about eating meat from infected deer. No one has confirmed any case of a human getting ill from eating infected venison, but a researcher at the University of Illinois told Johnson he wouldn't eat a diseased deer and risk being the first one strickened.

Meanwhile, an alarming UW-Madison study found that the prions can infiltrate plants such as alfalfa, corn and tomatoes. Ron Seely from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported in September that a researcher suggests this “may represent a previously unrecognized risk of human, domestic species and wildlife exposure to CWD.”

George Meyer, former DNR secretary who heads the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, told Seely the “disconcerting” study should prompt a review of the DNR control strategy.

Time and again through the decades, government has been slow to protect Americans from hazards. If hunters and the DNR ignore the threat of human exposure to CWD, they might be doing so at their own risk.

If you shoot a deer in a CWD zone, get the animal tested. If the tests prove positive, don't eat it. Hunters, let's be safe out there.



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