The finding that 2 percent of the deer killed in a special hunt in southwestern Wisconsin carried a fatal brain disease will require more efforts to trim the deer herd, a top wildlife official says.
"All the best advice is we need to reduce the deer population. That is the discussion under way right now," said Tom Hauge, director of the Department of Natural Resources wildlife management bureau.
The DNR announced Feb. 28 that three bucks shot by hunters last fall near Mount Horeb tested positive for chronic wasting disease, sometimes referred to as mad deer disease. It was the first time the disease was found east of the Mississippi River.
That prompted the DNR to order the killing of 500 deer in a 415-square-mile area of Dane and Iowa counties to find out how far the disease had spread into the herd.
The Natural Resources Board, which makes hunting regulations in Wisconsin, was briefed Wednesday on the latest developments, Hauge said. The board took no action.
The DNR may recommend trying to eradicate the disease from the herd, which would mean killing thousands of deer in southwestern Wisconsin, Hauge said.
Wildlife and health officials believe it's necessary to reduce the number of deer in the area 30 to 40 miles from where the infection was found, DNR wildlife biologist Bill Vander Zouwen said.
Brain tests of the 516 deer killed by landowners and DNR sharpshooters in March and early April determined 11 were infected with the disease, which causes deer to grow thin, act abnormal and die, Hauge said.
All the diseased deer were killed within 13 miles of each other and were taken generally in the northern half of the surveillance area, he said.
"I take that as a bit of good news as opposed to the diseased ones being scattered all over," Hauge said.
"The original news that we had 3 positives was disturbing to many folks. Whether we had 11 or 25 more, I think the conclusion is ultimately the same."
The DNR had estimated about 20,000 deer roamed the fields and woods in the 415-square-mile surveillance area.
"We have indicated that we don't know if we can eradicate the disease but by golly we would like to try," Hauge said. "If ever we had an opportunity, it's now."
The DNR does not know how the disease got into the herd.
There is no evidence the disease can be passed to humans by eating meat of an infected animal but no one can say for "absolute certainty" that chronic wasting disease will not cause human disease, state epidemiologist Jim Kazmierczak said.
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