The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced this week that chronic wasting disease (CWD) is spreading in south-central regions of the state. 2013 test results show the current prevalence for CWD in white-tailed deer for western Dane and Iowa counties is as high as one in every four bucks. Female deer are less prone to CWD, with only one in 10 testing positive for the disease.
“Sampling deer from these areas where there has been long-term monitoring of disease patterns is important to understanding the dynamics of this disease,” said Tami Ryan, DNR Wildlife Health section chief. “Prevalence has been increasing as expected, and we continue to find that prevalence is higher in males than females and higher in adults than yearlings.”
CWD is an infectious disease that can be transmitted among deer, moose, and elk. The disease attacks the brain of adult animals and is always fatal. As of yet, there is no known cure or method to test live animals. Wildlife agencies consider CWD to be a major threat to the health of cervid populations.
The disease was first discovered in Wisconsin in 2002, which prompted the state to extend hunting seasons and to employ sharpshooters. The Journal-Sentinel reported that since then the DNR has spent more than $45 million fighting the disease. Despite the department warning against year-to-year comparisons, the rate of infection seems to be rising.
Some experts urge the DNR to take a more aggressive role in halting the advance of CWD, but Ryan said there is not much public support for drastic actions, such as bringing back sharpshooters. However, the DNR stated with the approval of the Deer Trustee Report rule package, new funding and the formation of local deer committees will allow the department to better approach disease surveillance and management. Along with these changes will be a new source of funding for CWD testing in 2014.
“It’s important to be able to work cooperatively with hunters and landowners, as their participation is essential to CWD surveillance,” Ryan said. “It’s also very important that we connect with the local communities so they can stay informed on deer disease and DNR’s approach to monitoring. They are also the conduit for public sentiment, sharing information with us in addition to taking information back to their community.”