- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Deer farmers should upgrade fences and face penalties for escapes, wild herd culling should resume in some areas and the state should conduct a study on deer’s economic impact under changes a committee is preparing to recommend for Wisconsin’s long-term chronic wasting disease plan.

The Department of Natural Resources, the Conservation Congress and state agriculture officials formed an advisory committee last year to review the state’s 15-year CWD plan. The panel, which includes representatives from Whitetails Unlimited, the Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Association, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and the state veterinarians association, is set to vote on the recommendations Wednesday. DNR officials will consider the final recommendations as they prepare final revisions for the agency’s board in March.

The committee has developed nearly 60 recommendations, although they’re broadly worded and most mirror existing objectives in the current plan, including a call for statewide baiting and feeding ban, sampling to determine the disease’s spread and monitoring public opinion on the disease and efforts to thin local herds around a new outbreak.

The new suggestions call for creating unspecified incentives for deer farmers to minimize escapes and penalties for allowing animals to get away; enhanced deer farm fencing, defined as double fencing or electric fencing, for farms with CWD-infected animals; and biosecurity plans for farms to stop the disease from spreading from captive deer to wild deer.

The state should allow “targeted culling” to thin herds on public and private land. It’s not clear from the language how widespread the culling would be. George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a committee member, said the culling would focus on areas where the disease is highly concentrated and in new outbreak areas. The existing plan calls for DNR sharpshooters to kill deer in disease clusters along the periphery of CWD areas or in areas around new outbreaks.

The recommendations go on to call for providing localized hunting opportunities outside of traditional hunting seasons, a study on how deer affect Wisconsin’s economy in order to understand CWD’s economic impact and funding research on CWD prevention and treatment.

CWD was discovered in Wisconsin in 2002, sending a shockwave through the state’s $1 billion hunting industry. The DNR initially urged hunters to kill as many deer as possible to slow the disease’s spread but later scrapped that approach in the face of intense criticism from hunters and landowners unwilling to kill more animals indiscriminately.

The agency under Gov. Scott Walker has taken a much more passive approach that centers on monitoring the disease’s spread. And spread it has; infection rates reached an all-time high in 2015.

Walker in May called for more studies on CWD and guidelines for deer farms, even though the DNR in December 2015 lifted a requirement that farms that don’t participate in CWD monitoring must double-fence after farmers complained double-fencing is too expensive.

Bruce Krueger, president of the deer and elk association and a member of the advisory committee, said he’s on board with biosecurity measures disagrees with the fencing recommendations. He said that move would require farmers to spend thousands on new fencing when it’s not proven fencing slows CWD’s spread between captive and wild animals.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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