Rapidly growing numbers of cases of chronic wasting disease are appearing on deer and elk farms and hunting ranches in Wisconsin at the same time the state has pulled back on rules and procedures designed to limit the spread of the fatal brain disease among its captive and wild deer.
Since 2013, when the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) began to let some captive deer facilities with infected animals continue operating, additional cases of CWD have developed within those facilities, according to interviews and documents obtained under the state’s Open Records Law.
The state’s overall strategy for limiting CWD lacks consistency. In October, months after Gov. Scott Walker announced “aggressive new actions” against CWD, lawmakers rejected an emergency rule to limit hunters from moving deer carcasses from counties affected by the fatal brain disorder.
Meanwhile, enhanced fencing requirements are under consideration for captive white-tailed deer and other cervids including elk — but those proposals face heavy opposition from facility owners who say such a requirement is not guaranteed to halt CWD spread and could put them out of business.
National CWD expert Bryan Richards said Wisconsin’s current approach of allowing facilities with CWD-infected animals to continue operating poses a serious threat to the state’s wild deer population, which has seen more than4,400 infected deer since the first CWD case in 2002.
Wisconsin now has more CWD-positive deer farms in operation than any other state in the nation, said Richards, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin.