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CWD still a factor in Crawford County, state

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By Steve Van Kooten

 

The big, orange box stands out against NCS Gunsmithing and Sales on Marquette Rd. in Prairie du Chien. On the front, a red sign with big white letters says, “CWD Sample Site.”

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) entered the popular lexicon in around in the early 2010’s when many variables about the disease were unknown, or at least not consistently agreed upon by experts. In 2023, CWD has become a fact of life.

With bow season underway and gun season for deer set for the weekend of Nov. 18, area counties have prepared for the harvest, and part of those preparations addressed CWD in the local deer populations.  Wisconsin has monitored the deer population for CWD since 1999 and the first results appeared in 2002.

In Crawford County, it’s estimated that six percent of the tested deer meat will produce positive results for the disease. According to estimates by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Bureau of Wildlife Management, the  county’s deer population has increased over time and has hovered around 21,000 for the last three years. Last year’s harvest was 4,800, nearly 25 percent of the population. It has been nearly a decade since the county’s first positive test in 2015 and neighboring counties like Richland and Iowa had positive test results that were above 25 percent in 2022. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) tracked CWD on a farm in Washburn County at the end of August, then on a farm in Rock County on Sept. 21.

On Aug. 19, The Monroe County CWD Task Force held the second CWD Summit at the Wilton American Legion where approximately 30 enthusiasts and natural resource professionals attended. The event’s purpose was to slow the spread of CWD in the deer population and maintain people’s safety as the harvest loomed over the forest’s naked branches.

Many facts about CWD are still unknown, including the method of transmission among the deer, elk and moose populations. The DATCP has suggested close animal-to-animal contact, animal fluids and vectors like contaminated feed and water sources are the primary culprits. The disease is the product of infectious proteins called prions that cause lesions in the animals’ brains. It’s not a fun way to go.

And while the DATCP has cited research that humans and livestock are resistant to CWD, the DNR and other agencies have created sample sites to provide free testing of deer to help prevent the consumption of infected animals. In Crawford County, the Eastman Locker, Kumlin Taxidermy and McCormick’s Bar and Grill are among the cooperating sites.

In Prairie du Chien, the NCS Gunsmithing and Sales shop’s sample site is the closest. Chad Smethurst, Master Gunsmith and DuraCoat Specialist, was approached by the DNR to put a site on his storefront. The logic: it would be an easy to find location and there was a natural relationship between his business and the hunting community.

“I thought it would be a good thing because they can come in and get more information,” Smethhurst said. “People do come in and ask questions.” Smethurst stated he can provide the common and accepted knowledge about CWD to those who inquire and point them in the right direction to access more specific information.

Nicole DeMarb-McKenzie, CWD Wildlife Biologist, said, “When you drop of your deer head or lymph node samples at a kiosk, it is important that you have all the information you will need with you so you don’t make a wasted trip. Another option would be to pick up a packet in advance of your hunt, fill it out at home and then bring it all to the kiosk at the same time.” DeMarb-McKenzie emphasized deer registration as the optimal time to submit deer sample information.

“If you complete the submission process online, including using a map where you can identify the location of your harvest just by clicking the map, then when you bring your head to the kiosk, you can simply check a box on the form saying you submitted your information online. This is much easier for the hunter and much easier for us.”

Dan Goltz, Wildlife Biologist for the DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management, noted that CWD is related to Mad Cow disease and Scrapie, degenerative diseases that affect cows and sheep respectively. 

“We urge people not to eat deer contaminated by CWD,” Goltz said, “but it’s a personal choice.” 

“Whether they’re a biologist, avid hunter or an old person who has been around for a long time, everyone’s got a different opinion on it,” Smethurst said. 

Goltz said looking at the deer’s physical signs of health was not a full-proof strategy; deer may not show any signs of degeneration for up to two years from the time of exposure.

“There aren’t necessarily tell-tale signs before you have a deer tested,” Goltz said. He encouraged hunters to utilize the resources available to ensure their meat isn’t contaminated. 

 

DATCP Clinical Signs of Illness:

-Loss of body condition/emaciation

-Change in behavior, such as a loss of fear for humans

- Loss of bodily control, movement

-Excessive drooling/salivating

Additionally, Goltz said deer may develop sores from standing or bedding in the same area for extended periods of time.

 

A Guide to Test Your Deer

The DNR offers different options for hunters to test their deer for CWD. These choices are free and accessible to every hunter in the state. Hunters may choose from the following four options:

•Self-service kiosks open 24/7: Kiosks contain sup-plies for hunters to drop off their deer’s head with five inches of neck attached for testing. This is a great option for antler-less deer or any deer that has already been skull-capped or caped out by a taxidermist.

•In-person with cooperating partners: Meat processors and other businesses can collect the deer head for sampling later or remove the lymph nodes at the time of drop-off. This is a good option for hunters who intend to mount their deer. If your taxidermist is not a cooperator, ask for the caped out head back so you can drop it off at a kiosk.

•At-home via lymph node sampling: Hunters unable to stop by a kiosk or cooperator within a day or two of harvest may pick up a kit ahead of time. Hunters can extract the retropharyngeal lymph nodes using the provided instructions and re-turn the lymph nodes to the DNR or a kiosk for testing.

By appointment with local DNR staff: This is a good option for hunters who want to have a European mount done. Hunters can contact their local wildlife management staff to schedule an in-person appointment.

Hunters may choose their preferred method and find the nearest accommodating location using the DNR’s CWD sample mapping application.

Testing, proper car-cass disposal and following baiting and feed regulations are three important ways hunters can help slow the spread of CWD this season. To learn more about CWD, visit the DNR’s Chronic Wasting Disease web page.

Reports by Gillian Pomplun in the Crawford County Independent contributed to this article.

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