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Hunters: DNR should rethink strategy to deal with deer disease

February 21, 2011 at 05:42 PM

Rockford Register Star

Tim Brugger longs for the days when white-tailed deer were a common sight on his four-acre, wooded property in South Beloit.

“When we moved in here, it was nothing to see 14 or 15 deer at a time,” Brugger, 49, said.
Five years later he rarely sees one.

Brugger and other hunters put the blame on the state Department of Natural Resources. Deer herds have been reduced in northern Illinois as part of the DNR strategy to combat chronic wasting disease, an incurable deer disorder believed to be passed by deer-to-deer contact.

The state’s first CWD case was discovered Nov. 1, 2002, near Roscoe.

The DNR strategy is based on the theory that a smaller herd means the spread of CWD is slowed.
To reduce the herd, the DNR has increased available hunting permits in infected counties and created a special CWD late-season hunt. The agency also uses a sharpshooting program in those areas.

But hunters say the time has come to rethink the strategy, especially the sharpshooting.

“There is a segment of the people who want to act like this is not a significant disease, and they want to act like we have some ulterior motive,” said Paul Shelton, DNR wildlife program manager. “There is no ulterior motive. We just believe this disease poses a significant threat to the Illinois deer population, and we want to do everything we can to fight that.”

Arrival in Illinois
How the disease arrived in Illinois is uncertain.

Researchers believe it can be carried to an area by an infected deer migrating from another location with CWD, or game-farm owners can unknowingly import an infected deer and it passes the disease to the free-range herd.

Hunters also might return home with the carcass of an infected out-of-state deer, and its remains are left outdoors, where a free-range deer comes in contact with it. 

After the first case was confirmed in Illinois, DNR staff began testing hunter-harvested deer during the 2002-03 seasons and recording locations where infected animals were killed.

DNR sharpshooters started killing other deer in those areas after the hunting season for testing, and the DNR continues to test hunter-harvested deer in northern Illinois.

The sharpshooting program continues. It runs during the winter months after the hunting seasons in infected areas where the DNR wants the herd reduced.

Numbers of cases
Fourteen CWD deer were killed in fiscal year 2002-03, according to DNR figures. A total of 51 were found the next year. The number has fluctuated between 51 and 30 since then. Thirty-two cases have been found so far this fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2010 through June 30.
The DNR has recorded 326 cases in Illinois since 2002.

The core CWD counties are Winnebago, Boone, McHenry and DeKalb. A few positives also have been found in Ogle, LaSalle, Stephenson, Grundy, Jo Daviess and Kane.

Of the 37 positives found among 6,734 tests (0.5 percent) conducted in 2009-2010, 17 were in the 548 deer (3 percent) killed by DNR sharpshooters and 16 were from the 5,781 hunter-harvested deer (0.3 percent).

The hunter-harvested prevalence rate was 0.4 percent during the 2003-04 season, while the sharpshooting rate was 2.8 percent.

Across the border
In 2003, the first CWD cases were recorded in southern Wisconsin, where a different approach to the problem is being taken.

Wisconsin discontinued its sharpshooting effort after a couple of years and instead installed longer hunting seasons and the unpopular earn-a-buck program, where hunters must kill a doe to receive a buck tag.

Davin Lopez, CWD coordinator for the Wisconsin DNR, said the prevalence rate of diseased deer has slowly climbed in those areas despite the DNR’s plan. The CWD rate among male deer in 2003 in Rock and Walworth counties was below 2 percent. It was 8 percent last year.

He said the state’s deer management plan is being re-evaluated, as are many programs under Gov. Scott Walker.

Petition drive
Steve Davis of Caledonia said he has explained the hunters’ dislike of the Illinois DNR policy to his state lawmakers, hoping they might find a way to force the DNR to change its plan.

“Nothing has come of that,” he said.

He also was one of the organizers of a petition drive to stop the sharpshooting. Petitions were placed in three hunting-related businesses, and 700 signatures were obtained in 18 months, Davis said.

He doubts the petitions will sway the DNR, though.

“I don’t think it will make an impact at all,” said Davis, a bow hunter.

However, the petitions show his frustration with the program is shared by many hunters.

“I know a lot of guys who have hunted for 30 years in the state, and they are at the point where they are ready to stop hunting,” he said.

What it costs
The state’s overall CWD program, which includes sharpshooting, receives about $900,000 annually from the Illinois Wildlife & Fish Fund, which comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and $200,000 to $300,000 in federal funds.

“No Illinois tax money is used,” Shelton said.

The DNR has 50 to 60 state employees who are certified sharpshooters.

Hunters opposed to the sharpshooting program contend that the state funds could be put to better use.

“It is money that could be allocated to different areas and improve things rather than do what they are doing,” Davis said.

The effects of the CWD program on hunter success rates in parts of northern Illinois can be seen in the annual harvest numbers.

In the core counties (Winnebago, Boone, DeKalb and McHenry), the harvest was about 3,500 deer in the season before CWD was found.

After a slight dip the next year, the harvest rose as the DNR liberalized the hunting regulations. The total topped 3.500 in 2005-06.

The harvest has stayed below 3,500 since then. Hunters in those counties killed 3,180 deer in 2008-09 and 2,710 this season.

Brugger, the South Beloit hunter, thought a longer firearm season might reverse that trend. And if the sharpshooting must continue, let the hunters help out, he said.

“That is only fair. Why should the DNR be shooting them and not give hunters the opportunity to shoot more deer,” he said.

Shelton acknowledged that hunters are a valuable tool in the management of the deer herd, but much of the sharpshooting is done on private property.

“We can’t grant them access to a particular piece of ground at a location where we need the work to be done,” he said.

Blind near school site
The hunters are not only upset with the state’s CWD strategy, but the way it is carried out.
One of their big frustrations is the location of some sharpshooting stands.

Recently a hunter opposed to the sharpshooting e-mailed his colleagues photos of a CWD shooting stand located about 375 yards from Willowbrook Middle School, 6605 Prairie Hill Road, in South Beloit.

Shelton considered the blind and bait site, which are on a neighboring property, safe because they were set up so the shooting is away from the school and toward an elevated bank in the edge of a woods, and the location is only used when school is out and no night activities are scheduled.
Ted Rehl, school district superintendent, confirmed the agreement.

“We’ve had no problems,” he said. “If I call them and say, ‘Hey can you forgo that this evening, something came up?’ they always honor that.”

Rehl, who is not a hunter, is indifferent to the setup.

“Am I pleased it’s there? Not particularly. Am I upset it’s there? Not particularly. It’s been going on for three years and they’re not backing off.”

The sharpshooters’ use of bait piles also riles some hunters for a couple of reasons.

First, they argue that if the CWD is spread by deer-to-deer contact, why put down a bait pile where deer will gather.

And, they ask, if baiting is illegal for hunters why should it be OK for the sharpshooters?

The DNR acknowledges there is a chance of the disease spreading at a bait pile, but says that risk is justified because use of the piles allows sharpshooters to get deer in locations where they can be shot without endangering area residents.

Bait piles also are removed at the end of the sharpshooting season, the DNR says.

A couple of the hunters contacted by the Register Star also said they had heard the deer killed by the sharpshooters were being buried by the DNR staff instead of being taken to processors.

Shelton said the deer were being taken to processors, where they would stay until CWD tests were completed. Deer testing positives were discarded while the rest were processed and donated to food lockers.

Shelton sent copies of two bills from processors in Winnebago and Woodstock to the Register Star. One was dated March 31, 2010, for $8,775 to cover the processing of 195 deer. The other was dated April 23, 2010, for $19,140 for 348 deer.

National praise for DNR
While under attack by some northern Illinois hunters, the state DNR’s aggressive CWD campaign and its ability to maintain a low rate of infection is commendable, said Bryan Richards, CWD project leader for the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.

“They are not seeing an upswing in prevalence, and holding prevalence static is evidence of management success,” he said. “Not many folks can make that claim.”

He said there is abundant evidence to show the rate is rising in many states.

In one game management zone in Wyoming without an aggressive strategy, the prevalence rate of CWD in mule deer is near 50 percent, and the size of the herd is showing a large decline.

“When we go to CWD-related conferences, Illinois is always being discussed as, ‘Hey, these guys are doing something right,’ ” he said.

Richards said wildlife officials in states with CWD have had to change from recreational management of their deer herds to disease management.

“And that is completely different,” he said. “I can sympathize with the hunters who are upset, but the long-term prognosis for herds with this disease is not good. This disease has the potential to do some pretty bad things to a deer population.”

Brugger believes the deer population would rebound in a few years if the sharpshooting program was discontinued.

But Shelton said the sharpshooting is necessary to keep the prevalence rate low.

“It is desirable to keep it at as low a level as possible while people are still researching and looking for other ways of dealing with it in hopes of some more effective cure can be found,” he said.

Reporter Doug Goodman can be reached at 815-987-1386 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Reporter Greg Stanley contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 Rockford Register Star. Some rights reserved

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

DNR: “we have a bad apple….HURRY, cut the tree down”....retards.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/22 at 09:44 PM

I can understand the concept that the sharpshooters get access to property that the hunters are unable to. I can also see where these pocket populations of deer in the non-hunted areas would have the potential to have CWD at a higher rate due to deer being more concentrated. But what I do not understand is the math presented by these figures. $1,200,000 a year out of Fish and Game/federal hunting dollars. 548 deer killed by the sharpshooters. That is a cost of $2,189.78 PER DEER! Open that program up to bids from outside contractors- I will bid $2,000 per deer and the state can claim that they saved money with the extra $189.78 per deer, that the outside bidding saved. For sure I can find some “sub-contrators” at the local bar to do the actual poaching for me for $50 bucks a head. Heck they might even pay me for the chance to do it. I am even willing to make some campaign contributions to make sure I am the winning bidder since I know this is Illinois.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/23 at 07:15 AM

DOUG GOODMAN
I am the winning bidder since I know this is Illinois.

Posted by olomixolo on 02/24 at 03:52 AM

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