Wasting disease spreads in Wisconsin

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2012 - 12:53 AM

Finding in doe a troubling development, DNR says. Testing will be expanded.

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Whitetail buck.

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Chronic wasting disease (CWD), long contained to southern Wisconsin, has been found in a deer in the northwest part of the state -- a disconcerting development for wildlife officials and hunters in both Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Hunters in northwestern Wisconsin likely will be asked to submit samples from deer they kill this fall for testing and the state could enact a baiting and feeding ban in the area near where the doe was found.

About 17,000 Minnesotans hunt whitetails in Wisconsin, and many hunt in the northwest. The 3 1/2-year-old infected whitetail was found just outside Shell Lake, about 60 miles east of Pine City, Minn.

"It's clearly not good news to see it has jumped that far,'' said Ed Boggess, director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fish and Wildlife Division.

Lou Cornicelli, the Minnesota DNR's wildlife research manager, said officials might test hunter-killed deer along the border, as it has done in the past, to monitor for the disease.

"We've long viewed the Wisconsin border as a risk to us,'' he said.

While Wisconsin has been fighting a widespread outbreak of CWD in the south -- more than 1,800 deer have tested positive since 2002 -- just one wild deer in Minnesota has been found with the fatal brain disease. That deer was killed by a hunter in November 2010 near Pine Island. The state tested about 2,300 deer in southeastern Minnesota last year, and all were negative. Over the years, Minnesota has tested more than 30,000 deer for CWD.

In the case announced by Wisconsin officials on Monday, the National Veterinary Services lab in Ames, Iowa, confirmed that the doe found near Shell Lake was infected.

Kurt Thiede of the Wisconsin DNR had few details on how the deer was discovered. He said someone reported a sick deer to the Washburn County Sheriff's Department on opening day of the state's gun hunt last November. The deer was killed by the Sheriff's Department on a small parcel of private land. The DNR submitted samples to agency officials in Madison in late February. Tests at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in early March came back positive for the disease, but the agency wanted confirmation from Ames.

CWD produces microscopic holes in animals' brain tissue, causing weight loss, tremors, strange behavior and, eventually, death.

Realizing the disease could threaten the state's $1 billion hunting industry, the Wisconsin DNR has worked for the past 10 years to contain it by adopting a contentious policy calling for hunters to kill as many deer as possible in areas with infected animals and employing its own sharpshooters in those areas.

But a state audit in 2006 declared the policy was a failure, noting that the deer population in the disease zone had grown, but the disease had largely faded from the public eye.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Doug Smith • 612-673-7667#

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