The death of a 2-year-old doe in March south of Eau Claire because of chronic wasting disease set off alarms regarding the health of the region’s deer population and is among the discoveries of CWD across Wisconsin that has prompted action to try to halt the spread of the malady.
The state Department of Natural Resources board voted on Wednesday to approve an emergency rule that requires deer farms to upgrade fences to prevent captive deer from mixing with wild ones and spreading CWD.
The move is a recognition of the serious nature of the disease that is fatal to deer that has spread to west-central Wisconsin, a local DNR wildlife biologist said.
The discovery of the 2-year-old deer in the town of Brunswick “was a big deal,” said Bill Hogseth, who is stationed in the Eau Claire DNR office. “People were very concerned about that and what it might mean for the deer population in this part of the state.”
That deer’s death is among a growing number of deer killed by CWD, first detected in Wisconsin in Dane County in 2002. Since then the disease has continued to spread, reaching many of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, Hogseth said.
“And where CWD has been in the southern part of the state, it is increasing in prevalence,” Hogseth said.
In an effort to halt that trend, the new rule calls for the operators of deer farms where CWD has been detected to install a second fence or a solid barrier to protect deer at farms from mixing with wild deer. The DNR estimates that would cost about $876,000.
As part of the order, CWD-free farms would have three options related to fencing. Operators of those farms could add a second fence, add a solid barrier or install an electric fence, estimated to cost those owners at least $1.3 million.
Farm operators would have one year to comply with the regulation. According to the DNR, 13 deer farms statewide have confirmed CWD infections.
The death of the 2-year-old deer prompted the formation of an advisory team to work with DNR staff on deer-related issues. David Zielke, chairman of that committee, said he backs the new regulation. Deer farm owners are trying to limit the spread of CWD, he said.
“I think this is something we have to try,” Zielke said. “We have to try to limit CWD, and this is one way to do that.”
The new regulations have local implications after CWD was detected in a deer at a farm just north of Fairchild in 2015 shortly after about 30 deer escaped from the Fairchild Whitetail farm owned by Rick Vojtik when a fence was damaged by a fallen tree.
Since then DNR staff have tested as many deer as possible to monitor whether CWD is spreading. Officials don’t know whether the death of the 2-year-old doe was related to the Fairchild farm on the eastern side of the county, Hogseth said.
“It is impossible for us to tell whether (the death of the 2-year-old) was related to the case in the Fairchild area,” Hogseth said. “We don’t know how that animal was infected.”
Infected deer typically carry CWD for 18 months to two years before showing signs of the disease, making it difficult to contain before deer have had contact with many others, Hogseth said. When a CWD case is confirmed, the DNR monitors as many deer as it can within a 10-mile radius of the death to try to track the disease. The agency also implements a three-year baiting and feeding ban within that range.
Because of the location of the 2-year-old deer in Brunswick, bans have been imposed in six counties, including Buffalo County, known for its trophy deer hunting.
“CWD getting close to Buffalo County was a story line for a while,” Hogseth said in reference to concerns about the disease infecting the famous deer population there.
In addition to Eau Claire and Buffalo counties, other counties impacted by the feeding and baiting ban include Chippewa, Dunn, Pepin and Trempealeau.
The DNR and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20, to discuss testing and voluntary surveillance permits in response to the discovery of chronic wasting disease in a wild deer in western Eau Claire County. The meeting will occur at Rock Creek Town Hall on Highway H in Rock Falls.
Given the spread of CWD and its consequences for deer herd health, Zielke predicted the issue will be a topic of discussion for some time.
“All of us who care about the deer population are worried about this,” he said.