The scourge of chronic wasting disease, which has ravaged parts of southern Wisconsin for several years, has moved north, with hunters in northwestern Wisconsin this fall urged to turn in deer heads for CWD testing and with deer feeding and baiting now banned in some northwest counties.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will collect voluntarily contributed deer heads for CWD from hunters in Douglas, Washburn, Bayfield, Burnett, Barron and Polk counties this fall through archery and firearms deer hunting seasons.
Hunters in this area are “strongly encouraged to submit deer heads for testing." The testing is free and results should be available within three weeks.
The DNR is urging hunters statewide to have their deer tested before eating any venison. While CWD — always fatal to deer — is not known to have crossed to humans, some health experts say that chance exists.
“We're grateful for hunters making that extra effort to have their deer sampled for CWD, and to support them, we continue to make access to sampling simpler, faster and easier each year," said Tami Ryan, DNR acting director for the Bureau of Wildlife Management. “Each deer sample is important because it brings us closer to our goal and ultimately contributes to an accurate understanding of the health of Wisconsin’s deer herd."
Greg Kessler, DNR wildlife manager in Brule, said self service CWD kiosks are up and running at the Gordon, Brule, Ashland, Washburn and Minong DNR offices open 24 hours every day during all deer seasons as well as kiosks at VP Wild Rice in Superior; Timber Ghost Taxidermy in Iron River; and PJ’s Cabin Store in Barnes. In addition, many meat processors and businesses offer in-person sampling assistance, including Hursh Meats In Poplar. Some sampling locations also have DNR Wildlife Management staff available to take samples and answer hunters' questions.
The kiosks include a box with bags for deer heads and instructions on how to record the geographic location where the animal was shot. There also are tools, including a bone saw, and a freezer nearby to preserve the heads for testing.
For an interactive map with sampling locations available in your area, go to dnr.wi.gov and search keyword "CWD sampling." There is also a searchable database available as an alternative to the map view.
A proper sample for CWD testing consists of the deer head with 3-5 inches of neck attached. Hunters will also need to have their harvest authorization number, harvest location and contact information when submitting a sample. To make special arrangements for large bucks, please call a nearby DNR wildlife biologist.
To view CWD results for a harvested deer, visit dnr.wi.gov, search keywords "CWD results." Hunters will need to enter a customer ID or CWD sample barcode number to view test results. The average turnaround time from when the deer is brought to a sampling station to when the results are available is typically two weeks.
Don’t eat venison from CWD-positive deer
If test results come back positive for CWD, hunters should follow advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin's Department of Health Services and the World Health Organization and not consume venison from that deer. There has been no known case of CWD jumping to people who ate infected meat, but some health officials say that species jump is possible.
Baiting ban expands
Meanwhile the DNR said that because of a positive CWD test on a dead elk from a deer farm in Burnett County, all deer feeding and baiting is now prohibited in Burnett County for the next three years and is banned for at least two years in neighboring Washburn, Polk and Barron counties.
Report sick deer
DNR staff are interested in reports of sick deer and deer with an unknown cause of death, but this does not include examining car-killed deer. Contact local wildlife staff listed above to report a sick or dead deer or call the DNR Customer Service hotline at 800-847-9367.
What we know about CWD
Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal nervous system disease found in cervids, including deer, elk and moose. There is no known cure. It is not a virus or bacteria. It’s one of a family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies caused when a naturally occurring protein, called a prion, mutates and then resists being broken down by the body the way normal proteins are.
When a deer become infected — from contact with contaminated soil or saliva, blood or feces of an infected animals — the bad prions multiply and damage the animal's nervous system. It can take up to two years for the symptoms to show, but then deer die quickly.
In just 50 years, it's spread from a single known location, a wildlife research station in Colorado, to 25 states, two Canadian provinces, North Korea, Norway and Finland.
In Minnesota, CWD has been confirmed in Crow Wing County near Brainerd in both one wild deer and several tame deer that died on a deer farm. It appears to have spread in three southeastern counties: Houston, Olmstead and Filmore. It’s also been confirmed in animals on deer farms in Aitkin, Meeker, Crow Wing, Stearns, Lac Qui Parle, Olmstead and Winona counties.
In Wisconsin, 55 counties are labeled as CWD-impacted. Of those, 25 have had confirmed CWD in wild deer, and 16 are within 10 miles of a wild CWD-positive deer. Another 14 counties have had CWD-positive deer in deer farms or are within 10 miles of those farms.
In August a farm-raised elk in Burnett County was confirmed to have been carrying chronic wasting disease. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection confirmed that a 6-year-old bull elk from a breeding farm in Burnett County tested positive for CWD after it had suffered an injury and was euthanized and tested. The state has quarantined the farm, and the remaining five elk in the herd, so that no animals can move in or out of the property. The move also restricts movement of carcasses. No elk have left the farm since the herd was formed in 2014.