By TODD RICHMOND | Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Advisory councils in nine Wisconsin counties whose deer are threatened by chronic wasting disease have recommended growing or maintaining their herds despite the advice of scientists who say that shrinking a herd is the best way to control the disease's spread.
The state's top wildlife official, Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp, endorsed the recommendations in a Feb. 16 memo to the agency's board, but not without expressing misgivings.
“One has to question the rationale behind recommending an increase in the deer herd when the spread of a deadly disease occurs more quickly at higher deer densities,'' Stepp wrote in a memo to the DNR's board. On the next page she added: “While the concerns are many, I would like to allow the department, (the advisory committees) and the public to work within the recommendations and address the challenges together.''
Council chairmen in the counties say hunters want to see more deer and controlling CWD in their regions isn't an issue. The testing of wild deer shows only five of the nine counties have seen a confirmed case of CWD. Adams County has seen four cases, Juneau one, Kenosha one, Racine one and Washburn one. The remaining four counties _ Burnett, Dodge, Sheboygan and Wood _ border counties that have had confirmed cases but so far haven't seen a case within their own boundaries.
“Our job is to represent Kenosha County and what the people and the hunters and citizens would like to see and that was overwhelmingly to increase the deer herd,'' said Steve Kenesie, chairman of the Kenosha County advisory council. “It's hard to justify to the public that we have a containment issue with CWD in Kenosha County.''
Forming the advisory councils as well as taking a more passive approach to CWD were among the recommendations Texas deer researcher James Kroll gave the DNR in 2012 to help improve deer management in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker hired Kroll as his “deer czar'' in 2011 and tasked him to find ways the agency could repair relationships with hunters who felt the agency had grown too draconian with its herd reduction strategies. Stepp is a Walker appointee.
The agency formed councils in each of the state's 72 counties and asked them to recommend whether to increase, decrease or maintain the county's herd. The councils began meeting late last summer. Most have recommended increasing or maintaining their herds. Only a half-dozen recommended shrinking the local herd. The DNR's board is set to vote on whether to accept the recommendations Wednesday. Once approved, the DNR will use the recommendations to determine how many antlerless tags to issue for the 2015 fall hunting seasons.
Asked how Step reconciles endorsing the herd recommendations and questioning the CWD-affected county councils' decisions, Bob Nack, the DNR's big game section chief, said in an email that the DNR is working in partnership with the committees and “in any good partnership, open discussion and sharing of opinions and concerns should be encouraged.''
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