MADISON (WKOW) — After a Conservation Council survey, hunters came out in support of a possible bounty that would pay hunters for killing deer infected with the incurable and quickly spreading, chronic wasting disease (CWD).
For avid hunter Jace Steward, his love of the sport inspired his choice to study conservation biology at UW-Madison.
“A big reason why I hunt is to foster a relationship with nature,” he said.
Steward said CWD has been on his radar for years, but it wasn’t until he bagged his first buck in Dane County, he considered testing.
“My concerns came from my own wellbeing and my friends and family that would also consume the meat,” he said.
While experts said humans can’t contract CWD by eating meat from an infected deer, they still advise against it.
Steward’s test turned out positive so he threw everything away.
“That was also disheartening,” he said.
Not every hunter chooses to test. According to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR),hunters harvested 2,535 deer in Dane County in the 2018 season. Of those deer, 1095 came in for testing, about 40 percent. The DNR estimates one in five bucks in Dane County have the disease.
Retired wildlife biologist Michael Foy said through his 30 years in the DNR, he watched the disease spread rapidly. He believes that’s because there’s little incentive for hunters to choose to hunt in areas where they know deer are infected and get them tested.
“Doing this isn’t something people would just do for the fun of it,” he said.
That’s why Foy along with retired DNR Wildlife Director Tom Hauge decided to ask hunters, forming a survey for the Conservation Council. Foy said he was surprised by the support; 5,033 respondents support bounties; 2,854 oppose the idea.
Steward said he’s one of the supporters.
“If I could perform an ecosystem service by reducing deer density in diseased areas, then I would feel happy doing that,” he said.
The DNR had a similar program from 2003 to 2005 though it had smaller payouts. Foy believes increasing the incentives would help the program better meet its goals.
This plan would work as a pilot program during a short period of time either in the gun deer hunting season or during a special hunt. Hunters and landowners would earn between $750 and $1,250 for each CWD-infected deer they bring in for testing. Businesses would get $300 for opening a carcass drop-off site.
The plan would cost between $900,000 and $1.4 million in state funding. Critics say it’s not worth the investment because there’s no proof this plan would work. Foy counters, nothing else has worked so far either.
“Let’s try it and see if we can do it, because right now we’re just watching this get worse and worse and worse,” he said.
Now that hunters have weighed in, the Natural Resources Board, the body that sets policy for the DNR, has to consider the idea. If the board approves the plan, it could make an effort to include a proposal in the state budget.
That would have to go through the Joint Finance Committee as the budget proposed by Governor Tony Evers does not include any new plans for fighting CWD.