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Conservation Group: DNR Must Take Aggressive Action on High Deer Population, CWD Spread

Wisconsin DNR

A prominent Wisconsin conservation group says the deer population in the state is far too high.

It’s urging the DNR to take action.

That’s just one of the suggestions advanced by Wisconsin’s Green Fire as part of a just-released comprehensive report on deer conservation. The report also requests the DNR take more aggressive action to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD).

With regard to deer population, this year might set a record, according to Tom Hauge of Wisconsin’s Green Fire.

“This current year’s population projection may be the highest that the department has ever produced. With that many deer on the landscape, they need to eat just like other animals do,” Hauge said.

The high deer population has many effects on Wisconsin’s landscape, according to the report.

In farmland areas, deer damage crops and increase risks for vehicle collisions. They also overbrowse forests, stunting plant and animal development.

“They have profound impacts on the landscape. It’s possible for deer to sort of eat themselves out of house and home if they become too abundant. But beyond that, as they browse their way across the forest, they can have impacts on many other species,” Hauge said.

Furthermore, it’s been nearly 20 years since CWD was first discovered in the state.

Hauge said the DNR’s approach has been too passive.

“It’s primarily a monitoring, watch-and-see type of strategy,” he said. “We’ve abandoned, for some time now, efforts to reduce disease prevalence. That’s really where Green Fire is recommending that the state needs to go.”

Among other recommendations, Green Fire would like to see a statewide baiting and feeding ban enacted right away.

“CWD has now been detected in the wild deer herd in 33 of our 72 counties. It is steadily marching outward from the southern part of the state, moving north. That is just going to continue to occur unless we really step up our efforts,” Hauge said.

The Green Fire report also points out deer hunting is in decline.

Additionally, the state hasn’t drafted a new comprehensive deer conservation plan since 1995. Green Fire would like to see that turned around.

We could help things along if we put this issue brief together and tried to get people focusing on those larger issues and get the discussions going and hopefully move things toward a better place,” Hauge said.

The entire Green Fire report on deer conservation in Wisconsin is available here.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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