MADISON, Wis. — A powerful Republican legislator is trying to derail new regulations that Gov. Scott Walker ordered to help slow the spread of chronic wasting disease in deer.
The regulations require deer farmers to upgrade fencing by next year and impose a general ban on moving deer carcasses out of CWD-affected counties. The rules are set to take effect Oct. 1.
State Sen. Steve Nass, co-chairman of the Legislature's rules committee, has called for a committee vote that day on suspending the regulations, saying they're too costly and cumbersome to implement this year.
"You have to address CWD, but you have to have enough lead-in time," Nass aide Mike Mikalsen said.
Buffeted by criticism that a hands-off approach has allowed the disease to spread and with re-election looming, the governor in May ordered state wildlife officials to develop emergency regulations requiring deer farmers to upgrade fencing and restricting deer carcass movement. Walker said he wanted the regulations in place for the fall hunting seasons.
The Department of Natural Resources board in August adopted an emergency rule that calls for deer farms that have had a CWD infection to install a second fence or solid barrier. CWD-free farms have three options: add a second fence, add a solid barrier or add an electric fence.
Deer farmers have balked at the cost. The DNR has estimated that farmers with CWD positives would collectively spend about $876,365 to comply. The cheapest option for farmers with no infections would be electric fencing, but the agency estimated that would still cost a total $1.3 million.
The rule also bans hunters from moving dead deer from CWD-affected counties unless they're headed to taxidermists or meat processors. Fifty-five of Wisconsin's 72 counties are considered CWD-affected, meaning they've either had a confirmed case or are adjacent to a county that has.
Mikalsen said Nass is concerned that the DNR is low-balling fencing costs by not considering labor. As for carcass movement rules, he said Nass feels it puts too much of a burden on hunters who traditionally cross county lines, forcing them to quarter their kills in the woods so they can get it home.
He added that Nass believes many hunters don't know anything about the rule.
"You can't drop this on them with six weeks to go before the season," Mikalsen said. "You're dumping this on people."
Nass is running unopposed for re-election in November.
The Walker administration is aware that Nass is pushing back against the rules and hasn't communicated any displeasure with him, Mikalsen said.
Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg referred questions to DNR spokesman Jim Dick. He offered only a one-sentence statement that didn't directly address Nass trying to block the rule: "The administration took aggressive action to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease through an Emergency Rule that was approved by the DNR's Natural Resources Board, signed by the Governor and, as of now, will be in place October 1."
Democratic state Reps. Dana Wachs and Nick Milroy were the first to develop the rules, proposing them in a 2017 bill that went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Walker acknowledged that he was co-opting their ideas when he ordered the regulations in May.
Wachs said he couldn't believe Nass was trying to block the regulations. He also questioned whether Walker really wanted the regulations in place.
"Scott Walker has had eight years to address ... what is one of the most potent threats to our deer herd ever," Wachs said. "Eight years. And nothing has been done. Now they're still trying to not do something about it? I don't know what Nass' problem with this is. Something needs to be done or we won't have a deer herd. These people ..." he said, trailing off.
CWD afflicts cervids, including whitetail deer. The disease attacks the animals' brains, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior and eventually death. It was discovered in Wisconsin in 2002, throwing the state's billion-dollar hunting industry into a panic.
The DNR initially tried to address the disease by thinning the herd, succeeding only in angering hunters. With hunters' votes at stake, Walker has opted to monitor the disease's spread rather than undertake any major initiatives to curtail it.