LA VALLE — Mitch Baker’s family hunts deer for meat near their La Valle home in western Sauk County. While the growing threat of chronic wasting disease in the region hasn’t stopped them, the family now tests its harvest before eating any deer meat.
“You probably shouldn’t consume it. It’s just too much of a risk,” Baker said of CWD-contaminated meat. “I’m not gonna take that chance with my kids.”
Baker and his wife, Elizabeth, volunteered in 2018 to help collect data from hunters to benefit state research efforts on the deer disease and how it spreads.
They plan to again set up a disposal dumpster and sampling station in the La Valle area this season to continue to help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources research the issue. Their efforts, and those of others like them, has inspired legislative action.
State Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, has introduced a bill that would create a grant to reimburse people and groups who purchase disposal dumpsters and operate informational kiosks related to chronic wasting disease.
“This whole issue is significant,” Marklein said. “It has an incredible impact on the state, as well as some long-held traditions of deer hunting in this state.”
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease in deer. Physical symptoms can take up to two years to develop, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Neither a treatment nor cure for it has been found, and scientists have not determined whether the disease can spread from deer to humans. The Centers for Disease Control warns that humans should not eat meat from animals that test positive for chronic wasting disease.
In an Aug. 2 media release, Marklein said 55% of wild adult male deer in Sauk, Richland and Iowa counties are affected by the disease.
Marklein introduced Bill 325 to the state Senate July 31, along with Sens. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire; Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater; Luther Olsen, R-Ripon; and Roger Roth, R-Appleton. Multiple state Assembly representatives also cosponsored the bill.
The committee on sports heritage, mining and forestry will hold a public hearing on the legislation at a later date.
The bill calls for $205,200 in grants through the DNR conservation fund. It would give up to $5,400 to 36 counties that either have been affected by the disease or counties located within 10 miles of a diseased deer in an adjacent county.
Marklein is a deer hunter himself.
DNR Wildlife Health Section Chief Tami Ryan said in a news release earlier this year the state agency is seeking citizen volunteers to adopt a sampling kiosk to help officials test for chronic wasting disease in deer.
“These programs provide an opportunity for conservation groups or individuals to assist with CWD surveillance and reduce risk of disease spread through proper deer carcass disposal,” Ryan said.
Elizabeth and Mitch Baker said they wanted to be involved in data-gathering and research efforts last year, so they reached out to the DNR and received help from a wildlife biologist to set up a kiosk in La Valle.
Setting up dumpsters to dispose of deer carcasses helps break the cycle by avoiding remains decomposing into soil and and preventing other animals from scavengers that further spread chronic wasting disease.
“That’s a real simple, easy thing to do. It’s free for the hunters who use it,” Elizabeth Baker said. “Everything is there at the kiosk. That information goes a long way.”
Sampling stations at kiosks allow hunters to leave behind a deer’s head in a bag for state agencies to analyze in a lab and determine whether the deer is diseased. Hunters take a bar-coded coin home with them so they can check the results online days later, Mitch Baker said.
Mitch Baker said hunters who wish to test their harvest for chronic wasting disease can choose to fill out data sheets and mark the location where they shot the deer. The information helps officials identify where the diseased deer are.
A representative from the DNR did not return calls seeking comment on its research efforts for this article.
To reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease, on its website, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources advises hunters transporting carcasses from one county to another take their harvest to a licensed taxidermist or meat processor within 72 hours.
Hunters can register their deer online and test for chronic wasting disease at stations in Lodi, Rio, Columbus, Poynette, Horicon, Hillpoint, Sauk City, Spring Green, La Valle, Baraboo, North Freedom and Reedsburg.
A full list of local sampling stations can be found online at dnr.wi.gov/wmcwd/RegStation.
To view which Wisconsin counties are most affected by chronic wasting disease among deer populations, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/regulations.
Editor's note: This article was updated Aug. 19 to correct the Centers for Disease Control's recommendations about the safety of meat from a deer infected with chronic wasting disease.