Tissue samples taken from a Washburn County deer was recently tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).
In response, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plans a focused surveillance within a 10-mile radius of the spot where the deer was found.
Hunters, meat processors, and taxidermists will be asked to cooperate in the effort. Road-killed deer are already being sought.
DNR Lands Division administrator Kurt Thiede said, "So far, we have collected four heads that will be submitted for testing."
The DNR would like to collect about 300 samples from the surveillance zone.
The infected deer - a 3-1⁄2-year-old doe - is the first deer from the northern part of the state to test positive for CWD. It came from a location that is well removed from any previous known cases of the disease.
The previous farthest north case of a wild deer testing positive for CWD was in Sauk County, some 186 miles away.
According to Thiede, the Washburn County doe was found on a small parcel of private land near Shell Lake on Nov. 19, the opening weekend of gun deer season.
The landowner noticed the sick deer near some buildings, and called the DNR info line. The sheriff's department was dispatched to the scene.
The deer was emaciated and its hair was falling out - common signs of CWD. It was laying down, and could be approached and touched.
The deer was euthanized by a sheriff's deputy and submitted for CWD testing. The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the deer had CWD.
Thiede said the DNR has been reaching out to landowners in the immediate vicinity to answer questions and address concerns.
The DNR encourages those who encounter a deer within the 10-mile surveillance zone that looks ill and/or is behaving strangely to contact the DNR information line at 1-888-936-7436.
Those calling may be authorized to euthanize the sick animal, if possible. Hunters are encouraged to kill and tag sick deer and transport them to a designated DNR collection site. The hunter will be issued a new tag.
This is also the first CWD case within the ceded territory, where Ojibwe tribes maintain off-reservation harvest and gathering rights. Tribal leaders and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) are taking an active interest in the case.
Thiede said there is active communication between the DNR and the tribes, noting that DNR personnel shared information at the most recent Tribal Task Force meeting.
Under state statutes, the DNR is required to enact a ban on the feeding and baiting of deer in any county that is within 10 miles of any deer that tests positive for CWD.
The ban would affect Barron, Burnett and Polk counties, in addition to Washburn County.
Thiede expects the ban on baiting and feeding within these counties to take effect soon.
Two previous rounds of CWD testing in these four counties (2002 and 2008-09) yielded no positive results (more than 1,000 deer were tested in Washburn County alone).
What is CWD?
CWD is a nervous system disease of deer, moose, and elk. It belongs to the family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) or prion diseases.
CWD occurs only in members of the cervid (deer) family. It may be transmitted through animal-to-animal contact or from a contaminated environment. Studies indicate that CWD prions exist in the saliva, urine, and feces of infected deer.
There has never been a documented case of a human contracting a prion disease from eating infected venison. Nonetheless, The Center for Disease Control and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services recommend that people not consume meat from an infected deer.
To minimize risk, hunters can take special precautions with their deer, such as wearing rubber gloves when field dressing, boning out the meat, and minimizing the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
If someone processes a deer for you, request that it is processed individually, without meat from another animal being added.
Much more information about CWD is available on the DNR website at dnr.wi.gov.
The DNR does not expect to alter the season structure or recommended antlerless quotas for this fall.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com