Bayfield County could impose new, stringent measures on deer farms and create an informational campaign to prevent chronic wasting disease from invading the county.
Members of a county committee formed to research the threat of CWD to Bayfield County deer, elk and moose began work in October, seeking methods to protect animals that are vital to the Northwoods economy, culture and way of life.
Taking action at the local level is necessary, said committee Chairman Fred Strand, because CWD is spreading — an indication that state measures are failing to contain it.
The state began tracking CWD 20 years ago. The first wild deer to test positive for it were found in 2002, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Since then, the disease that kills deer and can spread readily through a herd has spread to 56 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
The northwest corner of the state is one of the few remaining areas that are CWD-free.
Bayfield County is concerned that if it does nothing, CWD will arrive here one day, Strand said. But the committee has high hopes that if the county implements its recommendations, it can prevent the disease’s arrival — or at least delay it for as long as possible.
The county is concerned about CWD showing up in the deer population for three primary reasons, said Jason Fischbach, a Bayfield County ag agent.
First of all, although it’s unknown whether the presence of CWD will reduce the deer population or not, it’s still critical that the cervids — however many there may be — are healthy, Fischbach said.
Second, the county fears the health risk CWD may pose to people, he said.
CWD has yet to be detected in humans, but it is a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, which manifests itself in people as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Hunters may balk at hunting deer in a CWD-infected county for fear of becoming ill from a sick deer’s venison.
And that could be a big problem because hunters play a role in controlling the deer population, Fischbach said. A greater number of deer crossing the roads increases the chances of collisions — some perhaps deadly — with vehicles, and the animals can inflict their fair share of damage to crops, trees and shrubs.
Educating hunters and residents about how they can help keep CWD out of the county lies at the heart of some of the recommendations listed in a report presented to the County Board in June.
The committee hopes hunters in Bayfield County will voluntarily have their deer tested here and dispose of carcasses in a way that reduces the chance of transmission.
To make the testing and disposal of carcasses easier — and thus facilitate compliance — the committee advised placing eight testing kiosks and carcass-disposal dumpsters in Herbster, Iron River, Barnes, Cable, Grandview, Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield during the upcoming hunting seasons beginning in mid-September.
Strand isn’t certain how the county will find the money to pay for these kiosks, but he’s hoping the state will kick in some funds.
An investment in CWD prevention could translate into keeping hunters — who contribute economically to the area, especially during the nine-day gun season over the week of Thanksgiving — happy.
But it’s not just about the money. It’s also about carrying on a tradition treasured by many, especially Native Americans.
Gerry DePerry, a tribal member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, shared with the committee the importance of deer to the Ojibwe culture.
DePerry said the tribe values venison as a source of sustenance and cervids quite simply have always been part of tribal life.
Although he doesn’t hunt as much as he used to, DePerry said he’s passing along the tradition to his nephew, teaching him good hunting and safety skills.
And as a hunter, he’s too concerned about CWD entering Bayfield County and heartily endorsed setting up kiosks and dumpsters.
“It’s for your own benefit,” he said. “The more kiosk sites the merrier.”
The connection between a deer farm in Washington County and a Copper Hill Hunting Preserve in Oulu highlighted the real possibility of the disease making its way to Bayfield County.
The owners of both deer farms — Dirk and Jane Stolz of Kewaskum — transferred deer to the Bayfield County preserve and then CWD was detected at the Washington County farm.
Copper Hill’s herd was destroyed, and on May 29, 2018, the county placed a one-year moratorium on the importation of live cervids.
The moratorium has since been lifted, but the committee recommended enhanced fencing requirements on any new deer farms, although the two existing farms may continue to operate under current state Department of Natural Resources fencing standards if they choose.
Tim Bratley, whose dad owns a Bayfield County deer farm, sat on the committee and said the members were “fabulous” to work with and considered many aspects surrounding efforts to stop CWD.
Now it’s up to the County Board to follow through on the committee’s recommendations.
After receiving the report, the board referred it to the Executive Committee to look into its cost, and to the Planning and Zoning Committee.
Those committees are to make recommendations to the board in July. The full report is available to view online at bayfieldcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/8884/Cervid-Committee-Report.