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July 16, 2018

7/10/2018 7:30:00 AM
NRB discusses deer farm fencing, carcass movement
Dean Hall/Lakeland TimesThe Natural Resources Board approved a scope statement regarding deer farm fencing and deer carcass movement in CWD-affected counties. This allows the DNR to draft language for an emergency rule to possibly go into place for this fall’s hunting season. A permanent rule would be drafted at a later date.
Dean Hall/Lakeland Times

The Natural Resources Board approved a scope statement regarding deer farm fencing and deer carcass movement in CWD-affected counties. This allows the DNR to draft language for an emergency rule to possibly go into place for this fall’s hunting season. A permanent rule would be drafted at a later date.

Beckie Gaskill
Outdoors Writer

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an always-fatal brain disease affecting cervids such as white-tailed deer and elk. The first case of CWD was found in Wisconsin in 2002. Since then, the state has various rules and regulations in an attempt to control the spread of the disease.

Despite these efforts, the disease continues to crop up in new places across the state. DNR wildlife regulations policy specialist Scott Karel recently spoke in front of the Natural Resources Board, asking them to approve a statement of scope for an emergency rule the department felt was necessary to prevent the further spread of CWD so "the state can continue the proper management of the deer population in a way that preserves the public welfare."

The department also looked for approval of the public hearing notice. The department acknowledged a healthy deer herd as a critical component of Wisconsin's culture, economy and identity and Karel said the two rule changes would align with the governor's initiative on CWD.

The request related to deer carcass transportation and deer farm fencing. The rule would look to create additional restrictions on movement of deer carcasses and certain carcass parts from deer harvested in a CWD-affected county. A CWD-affected county is one in which a deer has tested positive for the disease, either in the captive or wild herd, or a county within 10 miles of where a deer was killed or found dead, that later tested positive for CWD.

Karel said carcass movement of infected animals adds to the spread of CWD. Due to the infectious nature of the prions that cause the disease, it is spread not only where live, infected animals congregate, but also where infected animal carcasses are not disposed of properly. Human-assisted carcass movement, the department said, has the potential to spread the disease in ways that would be much less likely through natural deer movements.

In 2009, a rule went into place limiting the movement of entire carcasses harvested within the CWD management zone and to adjacent management units. In 2014, when those units were changed to county-based units and the management zone changed to CWD-affected counties, the change inadvertently allowed hunters to move an entire carcass to more areas of the state, the department said. Conceivably, a hunter could move a deer from an area of high prevalence to a county that was an "affected" county, but one in which no deer had tested positive for CWD in either the wild or captive herd. The new rule would look to limit movement of an entire carcass to within the CWD-affected county where it was harvested, unless taken to a licensed processor within 72 hours.

An advisory question regarding carcass movement and movement of certain parts of a carcass, was placed on the 2018 spring fish and wildlife hearings survey. The proposal passed in 50 of Wisconsin's 72 counties with 54 percent of total voters approving of the change.

The second half of the request was in regards to fencing at white-tailed deer farms. While white-tailed deer farms themselves are regulated by The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), the fencing of those farms falls under DNR control. Enhanced fencing would look to put a larger barrier between the captive and wild herds and also allow less chance for captive animals to escape and potentially infect the wild herd, according to the department.

'You are not going to eliminate the disease'

A preliminary hearing on the statement of scope was held in June at the Portage Comfort Suites. Twenty-nine members of the public attended. Many deer farmers were against enhanced fencing, the costs of which, they said, would be prohibitive. Several deer farmers, however, were in favor of restricting wild deer carcass transportation.

Both the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and the Sauk County Sportsman' Alliance testified in favor of the scope statement. Several hunters who process their own deer spoke regarding their concerns about their ability to continue to self-process in the face of carcass movement being further restricted. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) commented it felt the exception in the current rule allowing carcass movement from CWD-affected counties to licensed taxidermists or processors should be removed. They also felt the county boundary was too large an area and the designation should be smaller. In all, they sent 17 recommendations to help stop the spread of CWD.

Karel said he did not have rule language to present to the board, but the baseline would be the governor's proposal. The NRB heard from many different entities regarding the statement of scope and their concerns, including tribal representatives. Some questioned the need for an emergency rule, as they had at the June public hearing. The impossibility of enforcement of carcass movement was also brought up.

"You're not going to eliminate this disease," said board member Dr. Fredrick Prehn. "Mother nature may someday, but I don't think we are as regulatory authorities."

Prehn wanted to be sure the state of Wisconsin was looking at how other states were managing the disease and to take some of those best practices to use in this state. No matter how the disease got to the state, he said, the need is to look at where the state is right now and to decide how to manage it. Looking at states that have had CWD longer and see how they are managing the disease. He also said he felt as though the economic impact statement, as far as game farms were concerned, was misstated. He felt the enhanced fencing requirement would be a "killer" for game farms in the state.

"Five years from now, I think you're going to find half or more of the farms gone and you're still going to find CWD chugging along doing it's thing," he said. "I"m not certain the economic impacts are accurate. But we will find out."

He also called for more information to be disseminated to the public. He asked for experts to come to testify and say what is and is not going to happen, from a scientific standpoint.

"If we're going to take actions, we definitely want to take actions that show a result, if we are going to burden people," board member Greg Kazmierski said. He gave examples of how hunters, even those who want to do the right thing, may still dispose of their deer carcasses in such a way that could spread the disease. He called for compliance with disposal rather than transportation of deer carcasses. That compliance, he said, needed to start with educating landfills, because carcasses can end up in landfills that are actually not set up to dispose of carcasses properly.

The scope statement

The scope statement will give the department permission to work on a rule. It does not create the rule itself. A public hearing on the emergency rule would need to be held within 45 days of publication of the rule, after the language is set. From there, Karel said, he would come back to the board once the emergency rule had been implemented, they would come back with a permanent rule.

While there would only be one public hearing on the emergency rule, there would be four on the permanent rule, giving other stakeholders a chance to weigh in. The emergency rule was needed now, however, to be in place for this fall's hunting season, Karel said. He hoped to come back to the board in August with the emergency rule. A permanent rule would have to be approved by the legislature after passing through the NRB. The permanent rule could be amended by the NRB, while they did not have the ability to amend a scope statement.

In the end, the board approved the scope statement allowing the department to look into drafting language regarding limiting carcass movement in CWD-affected counties as well as enhanced deer farm fencing.

According to the scope statement packet, public hearings would be scheduled in December of 2018 regarding both of these regulation enhancements. Four hearings would be held in December, one each in Madison, Milwaukee, Eau Claire and Appleton. These public hearings would be done prior to the permanent rule coming in front of the NRB. One public hearing would also be scheduled in Madison for the emergency rule.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at bgaskill@lakelandtimes.com.

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