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State to ask Winnebago County to drop deer sharpshooting ban

February 06, 2012 at 08:28 PM

Rockford Register-Star

ROCKFORD — Officials with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources say a decision to keep their sharpshooters out of Winnebago County forest preserves jeopardizes its efforts to curb the spread of a fatal disease for deer.

Tom Beissel, IDNR regional wildlife biologist, wants the county Forest Preserve District to reverse the decision it made last month to put the state’s deer-culling program in forest preserves on a one-year hiatus.

Winnebago County is among the main areas of Illinois where the disease is found.

“Overall prevalence rates continue to remain low and we are confident we have slowed the spread of the disease,” Beissel said in a message to the district. “The loss of IDNR access to your properties could severely compromise this success and rapidly reverse these trends.”

Since 2004, sharpshooters from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources have killed 268 deer in Winnebago County forest preserves in an effort to slow the spread of chronic-wasting disease.

Just three of those deer tested positive for the fatal neurological disease.

That’s one of the stats Forest Preserve commissioners noted Jan. 18 when they decided to keep IDNR sharpshooters off their turf.

The resulting report — one that shows hundreds of healthy deer are killed to find a few that are sick — is precisely what concerned Commissioner Audrey Johnson before she proposed the one-year sharpshooting moratorium.

“Are we really doing what is right for the deer population when these healthy deer are killed and our herds are really diminishing?” Johnson said during the meeting.

Even if the number of deer that test positive for the disease is low, the program is still working, Beissel said. The sharpshooting program reduces deer density, the primary goal of the state in areas like Winnebago County that have known habitats with infected deer. Thinning the herd reduces the spread of the disease and lowers the average age of the herd — important because the disease takes about 18 months to develop, meaning fewer reach the chronic age, Beissel said.

“The very minute that we thought it’s not working, we would fold up our tents,” Beissel said. “We’re able to say — based on evidence from Wyoming, Wisconsin, and other states that aren’t doing anything — that if we fold up tents, chronic wasting disease is going to spread throughout Illinois and infect the entire deer herd.”

Commissioners will review the state’s data and Beissel’s request at their Feb. 15 meeting, but they’re not likely to lift the sharpshooting moratorium, said Board Chairman Randy Olson. He said commissioners will revisit the issue again next year.

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“One problem we have is that they still won’t give us the amount of deer they want to take,” Olson said.

The IDNR has never established a specific deer reduction goal for any shooting location in areas where they are actively working to reduce deer density, such as Winnebago County, Beissel said.

In 2011, state sharpshooters collected 860 usable deer samples from 10 counties between Jan. 15 and March 31. They found 10 deer that tested positive for the disease: Boone County, 2, DeKalb County, 2, LaSalle County, 1, McHenry County, 1, Ogle County, 2, and Winnebago County, 2.

A total of 7,583 samples were taken statewide, which includes both sharpshooting efforts and deer provided for testing by hunters. That resulted in 42 infected deer, including 10 from Winnebago County and seven from Boone, the two counties with the highest number of infected deer.

“Even though the incident is low ... we’re not sure about how contagious that is, and it looks like it could be fairly contagious from deer to deer,” said Dom Castaldo, a livestock nutritionist and microbiology instructor at Sauk Valley Community College.

“If you let those three or four deer go, and they start infecting other deer, then you have a larger percentage of the herd infected and you’re going to have a real problem getting it out,” Castaldo said. “If that disease gets widespread in the herd, then the county is going to have a big problem maintaining deer numbers.”

Castaldo, an avid hunter, trapper and fisherman, wants hunters to play a greater role in slowing the spread of chronic-wasting disease.

“It would be a way to cull the heard, which is necessary to control chronic-wasting disease, not have to hire outside sharpshooters and give residents a source of recreation,” Castaldo said. “You would only be able to accommodate 10 or 20 hunters (for the program), but even guys who don’t get a permit would applaud the DNR and Winnebago County for being willing to work with them.”

Many hunters complain sharpshooting efforts have thinned the deer herd too much and made hunting more difficult. The number of deer taken during this year’s hunting season hasn’t dropped significantly.

Winnebago County hunters harvested 915 deer this season, 28 fewer than a year ago. Boone County hunters took 285 deer, 12 fewer than a year ago, and Ogle County hunters brought in 1,988 deer, 82 fewer than in 2010.

Statewide, hunters harvested 181,411 deer this season, a less than one percent drop from a year ago.

“Hunters experienced harvests this year that were almost identical to last year,” IDNR Forest Wildlife Program Manager Paul Shelton said in a written statement. “Deer populations in many parts of the state have been brought down to levels that are more in keeping with population goals, and in the coming months biologists will be studying available data to determine changes to implement for the 2012-13 seasons.”

Beissel said sharpshooting must coincide with hunting because sharpshooters kill sick deer at a much higher rate than hunters. Hunters brought 6,062 deer in for testing this season and 29 tested positive for the disease.

Staff writer Kevin Haas can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 815-987-1410.

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

Really Mr. Beissel??? Wisconsin did nothing to control CWD??  If I recall they attempted to completely eradicate the deer herd in an effort to stop the spread of CWD. No limits for hunters, sharp shooters from the DNR, and hunting seasons that were nearly year round. Guess what, the disease still spread.  I may not have a degree in biology, but common sense tells me that this approach has already been attempted and failed.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/13 at 09:00 AM

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