Conservation

ATA Addresses CWD’s Impact on Bowhunting, White-Tailed Deer in Wisconsin

The Archery Trade Association is part of a 20-member committee that’s reviewing Wisconsin’s management plan for chronic wasting disease. The state’s management plan addresses the deep concerns regarding the disease’s long-term impacts on the region’s white-tailed deer and bowhunting.
Photo Credit: John Hafner

Author: Patrick Durkin

The Archery Trade Association’s Mitch King and Dan Forster are serving on a 20-member committee that’s reviewing Wisconsin’s management plan for chronic wasting disease, which is present in at least 18 of the state’s 72 counties, and triggered tighter hunting regulations in 43 counties.

King and Forster, who direct the ATA’s government-relations programs, agreed to help review the CWD plan because the ATA has deep concerns about the disease’s long-term impacts on the region’s white-tailed deer and bowhunting.

The committee has met three times since late October, and helped craft a survey that’s now online to gather public reaction on how Wisconsin should address and manage CWD. The public-comment period ends Jan. 3. The committee meets again Feb. 1 to review the results and make its final recommendations for Wisconsin’s seven-member Natural Resources Board to consider at its March meeting.

Wisconsin discovered its first CWD cases in February 2002 during routine tests on hunter-killed deer from the November 2001 firearms season. That discovery marked the first time CWD was found east of the Mississippi River. Since that initial discovery of three CWD-infected deer, Wisconsin has tested nearly 200,000 deer and confirmed CWD in 3,425 individual animals. The disease is most common in the state’s southern farmlands, with some areas reporting infection rates above 40 percent for adult bucks and 30 percent for adult does.

Chronic Wasting Disease is most common in Wisconsin’s southern farmlands, with some areas reporting infection rates above 40 percent for adult bucks and 30 percent for adult does. Photo Credit: Pat Durkin

Wisconsin crafted its current CWD management plan in 2010, and formally reviews it every five years to ensure it addresses current conditions.

King, Forster and the ATA are also working with the National Deer Alliance in a nationwide effort to learn more about CWD and control its spread. For example, with King’s guidance, the ATA recently worked two years with scent manufacturers, state and federal agencies, and captive-deer/elk facilities to develop the ATA Deer Protection Program.

The program’s strict guidelines ensure ATA-member scent manufacturers and product suppliers do everything possible to prevent CWD’s spread in wild deer, elk and moose in the United States. The restrictions strive to ensure that animals providing urine for scent products are not carrying CWD. In turn, hunters who buy and use these products are assured they won’t spread infectious prions that cause CWD. The restrictions meet or exceed rules imposed by state agricultural departments and federal disease-management agencies like the USDA’s APHIS Herd Certification Program.

King suggests Wisconsin adopt the ATA Deer Protection Program as part of its long-term CWD plan. “Rather than outlaw deer scents with limited scientific justification, we want state wildlife agencies to set a high bar for their use,” King said. “We’re saying that if you allow urine-based scents in Wisconsin, the agency should require the product come from facilities following strict best-management practices. And if manufacturers want to sell scents in Wisconsin, they should be enrolled in the ATA Deer Protection Program or other programs that document compliance with these best-management practices. If they’re enrolled in the ATA Program, they can place the ATA checkmark logo on their products. That tells hunters this manufacturer is doing everything possible to prevent CWD’s spread.”

Scent manufacturers enrolled in the ATA’s Deer Protection Program can place the ATA checkmark logo on their scent products. Hunters who buy and use these products are assured they won’t spread infectious prions that cause CWD. Visit archerytrade.org/deerprotection for a complete list of members enrolled in the ATA Program. Photo Credit: ATA

King said the ATA also focused its efforts on five other high-priority areas of Wisconsin’s CWD plan:

1. The plan should be the state’s best possible attempt to monitor and manage CWD. “A committee’s goal should be to write their plan as if money is no object,” King said. “It’s a big mistake for agencies to write long-term plans based on what they can afford in the current budgetary climate. A good long-term plan shows the public what the state should do. When the agency starts implementing the plan and injects the realities of the budget they’re given, the public can then weigh in politically if the plan can’t be followed for lack of funding. The public must have a say in setting budget priorities on something this important.”

2. The DNR needs to monitor CWD statewide, not just in hotspots where it’s known to exist. Monitoring should include areas where the disease is unlikely to exist. “People are asking if the DNR is doing an adequate job testing and monitoring CWD’s density, prevalence and occurrence,” King said. “You can’t assume it hasn’t spread to other parts of Wisconsin. Look at Arkansas. They likely had CWD for 20 years before realizing it.”

3. Set a higher priority on the DNR’s outreach and education efforts. “Wisconsin needs a good, solid outreach program between the public, private landowners and the state’s hunters,” King said. “It needs to keep everyone informed on the latest CWD findings. You can’t just say CWD is nothing to worry about. Everyone needs to read and hear what the experts know, and then decide themselves if they have cause to worry.”

4. Wisconsin needs to set up a rapid-response plan for new CWD outbreaks. “What will they do the next 30 days if they discover CWD in Buffalo County this afternoon?” King asked. “The DNR should have a response plan ready to go. It should lay out what’s going to happen, step by step, no matter where the disease turns up. They don’t have one right now.”

5. The Wisconsin DNR and its Department of Agriculture need to agree how to handle escapes from private deer and elk farms. “No one can say these escapes are spreading CWD, but they’re problematic and they seem to be happening with some frequency,” King said. “We’ve discussed the need for double-fencing to prevent nose-to-nose contact between wild deer and captive deer. It goes both ways. You don’t want wild deer in regular contact with captive deer, and I’m sure captive-deer owners don’t want their deer in regular contact with wild deer, especially in areas with CWD. Although the plan discusses escapes and fencing, it falls short on listing what actions the Department of Agriculture will take to reduce escapes.”

King said the committee’s proposed changes to the CWD plan address the ATA’s concerns. “I hope the public-review process generates helpful discussion on these proposed revisions,” he said. “The ATA appreciates this opportunity to participate in this important matter.”

Visit archerytrade.org/deerprotection to learn more about the ATA’s efforts to fight CWD’s spread.

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