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Proposal would let Wis. residents keep wild deer

August 31, 2013 at 08:43 PM

The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — People would be able to keep deer they capture in the wild under a proposal the state Department of Natural Resources released Thursday in hopes of heading off more emotional confrontations over pet deer.

DNR officials have endured intense criticism over how they handled a pair of high-profile captive deer incidents, euthanizing one animal named Giggles and nearly euthanizing another named Charlotte before Gov. Scott Walker spared her life.

"Everybody saw how difficult these situations can be both socially and for the agency," said DNR Lands Division Administrator Kurt Thiede. "These situations are obviously very emotional and charged. I don't think there's an easy solution to any of this."

Current state law prohibits anyone from taking an animal from the wild without a license. Only licensed rehabilitators can hold wild deer temporarily but must return them to the wild. State Department of Natural Resources policy forbids rehabilitators in counties where chronic wasting disease has been detected from holding any deer for any length of time to prevent the spread of the disease.

Under the DNR's plan, individuals who capture a wild deer could still face citations and penalties but could keep the animal if they build a pen and have the deer checked out by a veterinarian. The agency also has proposed requiring people to pay $625 in forfeitures and a $150 annual registration fee; the Legislature would set the final costs. The agency also would be prohibited from euthanizing a pet deer unless it's sick or poses a threat to public or wildlife health. Rehabilitators could accept deer from counties where chronic wasting disease has been detected as long as they return the animals to those counties.

In 2011 the agency planned to euthanize an orphaned deer that a Lake Geneva man brought to back to his farm. His ex-wife named it Charlotte and the man nursed it back to health. The DNR said the deer had to die because the man couldn't keep it legally and it couldn't go back into the wild because it came from of a chronic wasting disease zone. Gov. Scott Walker ultimately issued a pardon sparing the deer.

This summer, an Illinois family brought a fawn named Giggles to the Saint Francis Society animal shelter in Kenosha. DNR agents showed up at the shelter with a search warrant, seized Giggles and euthanized the animal. Agency officials said Giggles came from a diseased zone and couldn't go back to the wild, and the shelter couldn't possess it.

Animal lovers took to the Internet to lambast the agency over that decision, prompting Walker to order his administration to ensure such incidents don't happen again.

Returning deer to chronic wasting disease areas runs counter to the DNR's efforts to contain the disease by thinning the herd in those zones, but Thiede said the plan falls in line with a Texas deer researcher's recommendations that the state adopt a more passive approach to the disease.

George Meyer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said returning deer to chronic wasting disease zones is hardly ideal, but the agency is in a difficult position since the public clearly won't stand for euthanizing them.

But allowing individuals to keep wild deer as pets sets a bad precedent by allowing individuals to lay claim to animals that belong to the public, he said. The DNR needs to mount a public relations blitz telling people to leave wild animals alone, he said.

"(The proposal) allows people to start capturing them as pets if they put up a fence and pay some penalties. And that is the wrong message to send," Meyer said.

The DNR puts out news releases and videos each year warning people to leave wild animals be, Thiede said.

Legislators would have to amend state law to let people keep wild animals. They also would have to establish the forfeiture and fee amounts in new statutes. Walker issued a statement Thursday encouraging lawmakers to consider the changes. Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Powers Lake, issued a statement late Thursday saying she looks forward to working on a bill.

DNR officials plan to ask their board next month to start implementing the rehabilitation portion of the plan. Board Chairman Preston Cole said he would withhold judgment until he sees the full proposal. But he said the agency must be more aggressive about telling people to leave wild animals alone.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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