By The Gazette Editorial Board
Chronic wasting disease has arrived in Iowa, with seven cases detected in whitetail deer this summer. And that long-feared, and expected, reality is prompting state regulators and lawmakers to consider how best to respond.
All seven cases of the fatal neurological disease were detected among captive deer herds owned by breeders at pay-to-shoot preserves, prompting some calls for tighter regulations on those businesses. One key lawmaker, Sen Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines and chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, told The Gazette’s Orlan Love that the enclosed private hunting areas, where CWD can spread quickly, may be more trouble than they’re worth.
We think the Legislature should rely on best wildlife management practices and science as it responds to the disease, rather than searching for scapegoats. Iowa should look to what’s worked in other states, such as neighboring Wisconsin, where the first case of CWD was detected in February 2002. Since then, the state has recorded more than 1,800 confirmed cases. Deer hunting is a $1.4 billion business in Wisconsin, according to state figures.
Wisconsin has focused on containing and minimizing a large area of southern Wisconsin where the disease is prevalent, called the CWD Management Zone. Wisconsin has expanded hunting in the zone, offering a holiday hunt around Christmas and New Year’s and a “Bonus Buck” program that allows hunters to harvest an additional buck if they first take one buck and an antlerless deer. Landowners can get licenses to hunt postseason and that state has deployed sharpshooters to cull herds.
Wisconsin also has more than 600 captive herds. When CWD is detected in one of those, the facility is depopulated and remains fenced off to stop wild deer from entering. Wisconsin lawmakers also voted to make baiting and feeding of deer within the management zone illegal.
Tim Marien, a biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says the effort has helped contain the disease and reduce the deer population in the zone. But an effort that once was able to spend $5 million annually thanks to state and federal funding is now down to $400,000 because of budget cuts. That’s reduced the amount of monitoring, testing and surveillance that are critical to tracking the spread and scope of the disease.
Iowa officials, no doubt, have their own ideas and strategies. But one thing we can take from Wisconsin is that it’s more important now for Iowa to contain rather than blame.
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