Is It Time to Take Drastic Measures to Combat CWD?

Mar 11, 2019

Is it time for Wisconsin to take drastic measures to attempt to get a handle on chronic wasting disease?

Our commentator the Masked Biologist examines a proposal called “Payment for Positives” in this week's Wildlife Matters.

Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, has recently achieved a level of notoriety close to when it was first detected in Wisconsin nearly 20 years ago. There was a flurry of disease surveillance and management going on; in the first deer season after the detection in the wild, there was a drop in license sales and resulting operating revenue that heavily impacted all wildlife management in Wisconsin. The state took a number of measures to try to reduce deer populations in areas where it was detected while trying to determine just how much of an area was impacted by expanding surveillance statewide. There were extra tags, incentive programs, even trained sharpshooters brought to task to try to put the squeeze on this incurable disease.

Time passed, though, and as the years wore on, the disease only seemed to spread across the landscape and increase in prevalence. The hunting public and politicians saw a need for a change, and prioritization for funds and manpower turned elsewhere. Today, the disease has been detected in over 20 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, including right here in Oneida and Lincoln Counties. In the southwestern part of the state, an ongoing CWD study shows that in some areas over 50% of adult (2 ½ year old) bucks are infected with the disease. With no known way to currently vaccinate to prevent the disease, and no treatment to cure it, the outlook is grim for Wisconsin’s deer and elk without some kind of change. One proposal, called Payment for Positives, presents a novel idea to try to stem the rising tide—pay hunters and landowners for harvesting CWD positive deer.

Two thoughts pop into my head when I hear pay for positive deer. The first question is “who is going to pay, and how much money is it worth?” Well, I guess that’s two questions. So then I have three questions. The third is kind of a throwback to the old market hunting days—can a state agency pay a hunter to harvest a deer? Conservation agencies and government offices in the past have paid bounties on animals that were nuisances to farmers and ranchers or predators of almost any kind. But can a state government pay a hunter to shoot a deer?

Well, the first question is answered by saying the State of Wisconsin would pay. Maybe using license revenue, or some kind of stamp or grant, maybe from donations or even funds earmarked by the legislature. Or, maybe a combination of all of them. The answer to the second question put a smile on my face. There are a couple of proposed payment levels, ranging from $750 to $1,250 per CWD positive deer shot. Now THAT is an incentive, isn’t it? I can certainly surmise that payment levels like that would be attractive to hunters and landowners alike. When you factor in all the payments to the hunter, landowner and sampling site, the three different proposed payment levels would cost an estimated $900,000 to $1.4 million.

The final question, though—can a state agency legally pay a hunter for shooting a deer? I guess for now, the answer is “it must either be legal or it can be made legal by statute” because the state is willing to consider it depending on public approval. I will have to look into the particulars a little more for a future installment.

That’s right, you get your chance to express your opinion on this idea straight to The Wisconsin Conservation Congress on April 8 at the 2019 Spring Hearings. This advisory question will read: Do you favor conducting a pilot CWD Payment for Positives program to test if CWD testing rates and removal of CWD-positive deer can be increased from infected areas?

Well, do you? To learn more, you can read up on it by going to the Payment 4 Positives Facebook page and attend the Conservation Congress hearing on April 8th to cast your vote.

Striving to make new things familiar and familiar things new, this is the Masked Biologist coming to you from the heart of Wisconsin’s great Northwoods.