- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican Gov. Scott Walker is considering Democrats’ calls to launch another attempt to aggressively kill deer in hopes of containing chronic wasting disease after infection rates hit an all-time high last year, his office said Thursday.

The governor’s chief-of-staff, Rich Zipperer, met with Democratic state Reps. Chris Danou and Nick Milroy on Wednesday to feel out their new CWD plans, which include culling herds around new infection sites and adopting Illinois’ herd-thinning plan. Evenson said in an email to The Associated Press that Walker’s staff is evaluating the proposals and will consult with the Department of Natural Resources.

“If the measures are viewed by experts as effective steps, we look forward to adding them to our ongoing efforts,” Evenson said.

The DNR tried to aggressively kill off deer after CWD was discovered near Mount Horeb in 2002, employing sharpshooters and asking hunters to kill as many deer as possible. The tactic devolved into a public relations nightmare: Hunters and landowners refused to get on board, calling herd reduction unattainable and a waste of deer.

After spending millions of dollars on the eradication effort, the DNR backed off in 2010 and adopted a new 15-year plan. That strategy emphasizes monitoring for the disease. If new areas of infection appear far from known clusters, the agency could respond with sharpshooters and expanding hunting opportunities to reduce the local herd.

The DNR’s board directed the agency in December to review the plan and report back by the end of the year. Last month, DNR officials announced that 9.4 percent of the 3,133 deer tested last year were infected - the highest prevalence rate since the disease was discovered in Wisconsin and up from 6 percent the previous year.

Numerous hunters and outdoor lovers submitted comments to their county deer advisory councils as part of the panels’ annual public surveys last week chastising the DNR, legislators and the Walker administration for not doing more to stop the disease.

Danou and Milroy said their plan includes requiring double-fencing captive deer farms, studying whether lures made out of deer urine or other bodily fluids contain CWD prions, the proteins believed to carry the disease, and analyzing other states’ baiting and feeding policies. They also proposed intensive herd thinning around new infection sites, restoring DNR science positions Republicans cut in the state budget and adopting Illinois’ strategy of killing as many deer as possible in infected areas.

Illinois discovered CWD in 2002, the same year as Wisconsin, but has stuck with a culling plan that uses sharpshooters and expanded hunting seasons. Its infection rate is 1 percent. The Wisconsin DNR’s existing 15-year plan calls for collaborating with Illinois on “mutually beneficial management methods.”

State Rep. Al Ott, a Forest Junction Republican who chairs the state Assembly’s sporting heritage committee, recalled during a telephone interview how angry sportsmen were over thinning the herd a decade ago. He suggested Danou and Milroy’s complaints were calculated to score political points in an election year.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, a Hazelhurst Republican who leads the state Senate’s sporting heritage committee, said he’d look at anybody’s proposals but he believes northern Wisconsin hunters are more worried about predators than CWD. He said he’d be hesitant to spend more money on herd thinning since it didn’t work in the past.

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


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