Thursday, January 31, 2008

WISCONSIN OPINION: Deer Management Undermined by CWD Panel's Petty Squabbles

by Pat Durkin

Last July, then-Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secretary Scott Hassett appointed 17 citizens and an agency biologist to study Wisconsin's six-year battle with chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer, then decide how to minimize its impact on the herd, woodland habitats, our economy and all who benefit from healthy deer.

Hassett also appointed a technical team to give the advisory group the latest science on CWD, and review and offer guidance as it developed recommendations. The team included a DNR sociologist, conservation warden and wildlife-disease veterinarian; and two CWD experts from the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Wisconsin.

The DNR presented everyone with a handbook that explained the project and encouraged teamwork. The booklet even included an inspiring quotation from famed anthropologist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Well, forget that. Six months and eight meetings later, this small group went home Jan. 26 doubting their work would change anything in Wisconsin, let alone the world. The final report offers many insignificant suggestions, but no ultimate goal for managing CWD, and no step-by-step plan with verifiable benchmarks.

Tom Givnish, a University of Wisconsin botany professor who served on the committee, wrote this in his minority report: "The majority report must be judged an abject failure. … The majority (took) so many management tools off the table that it will be impossible to achieve substantial herd reduction or substantially slow the spread of CWD."

The plan merely tweaks hunting regulations that, if approved, would more likely confuse hunters than thwart disease. For instance, the group recommended a statewide ban on recreational deer feeding, but endorsed current deer-baiting laws for hunters, which allow 2 gallons of bait during deer season.

Ed Harvey, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, rejected most of the recommendations in a letter on Jan. 23. "Perhaps most importantly, we want to be very clear that (we) do not support the baiting or feeding of deer," he wrote.

When considering the atmosphere surrounding the group, maybe it's noteworthy they crafted anything. For instance, they voted 9-6 at their Jan. 12 meeting to silence the technical team, directing they not speak unless spoken to. This prompted Dr. Julie Langenberg, the DNR's wildlife veterinarian, to walk out.

That wasn't the first sign of trouble. Dr. Daniel Griffiths, a Lomira veterinarian representing the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association, attended the group's meetings in July and August, missed the next two for other commitments and never returned.

He said angry e-mails from group members dissuaded him. "E-mails were flying back and forth that if people missed meetings, their voices shouldn't be heard," Griffiths said Sunday. "There was nothing I could tell them that they wanted to hear. Some of them had set agendas. They were hostile to the scientists giving presentations at the first two meetings and treated them with disrespect. We had no common ground to work from at that point."

Givnish had similar thoughts. "There was too much going on behind the scenes," he said after the Jan. 26 meeting. "There were ugly blogs on the Internet associated with this committee. Some people have a creepy idea of what public service involves. We're supposed to resolve our differences through rational argument and common sense, not fisticuffs or worse. It's sad that happens, but I wasn't surprised."

Alan Crossley, the DNR's CWD project leader, represented the agency on the committee. He said he tried to create a collaborative spirit within the group, and felt terrible that animosity often resulted instead.

"If anyone is to blame, it's me," Crossley said. "I never should have allowed that vote (to silence the technical team), but I never thought it would pass. Maybe I'm too accustomed to the emotions surrounding deer. People who don't work in this environment were probably more shocked than I was."

Whew. Big ol' sigh.

As disgracefully as the advisory group sometimes behaved, and as noble as it might be for Crossley to take the hit, the true fault lies with the DNR's hierarchy, our governor and Legislature and all state institutions involved in CWD policy-making.

Wisconsin has yet to specify a long-term goal and comprehensive plan for managing CWD, and no leader has championed one. Expecting 17 citizens and one DNR employee to go beyond the chieftains' audits, indifference and second-guessing proved foolish.

Meanwhile, deer continue paying for our apathy.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

PAKISTAN NEWS: Poachers Killing Endangered Deer

Foreign guests belonging to Gulf States have been found involved in killing protected animals with the connivance of local influentials. While the Sindh Wildlife Department remains silent over the matter, The News has learnt that the illegal hunting of animals including deer [Ed. note - hog deer, Axis porcinus?] — on the list of protected animals according to SWD Act 1972 — is going on unchecked. Most influential people along with their foreign guests have reportedly killed 38 deer in Thar Desert, near Umarkot.

The wide desert area, including Achhro Thar (White Desert), near Pakistan-India border, is a natural habitat of this endangered species. Locals explain that deer cross the border into Pakistan territory in winter and monsoon seasons every year. “The animal usually comes to the other side early morning and poachers kill the animal at its entrance site,” Amar Leghari, a local environmentalist from Sanghar, told The News.

“It is a natural grazing field for the deer in Thar linking Umerkot, Sanghar, Nawabshah and Khairpur districts. Only local people know the habitats, who lead the poachers after taking big amounts from them,” he said.

Reports add that the Sindh Wildlife Department officials deputed there, after possessing skins and other evidence arrested some poachers but later released them after the high-ranking people approached higher authorities.

Only the workers of these influential people were arrested, while those with direct links to the corridors of power were excluded from the report registered by the officials. Later, the SWD local officials were hushed up over the issue of challenging the most powerful people, activists said.

Local people explain that the influential poachers pay attractive sums to traditional foot-trackers to kill these wild animals.

On contracts, local activists explain, “it is routine crime. These people hailing from Gulf States set up camps in these areas for some time in the winter and kill endangered species, including deer and houbara bustard along with the local influential people. According to the activist, this time around the media has taken notice of the situation because political rivals have raised the issue against a candidate, who was the host of these foreign and local guests and arranged the hunting.

The SWD department issues licenses to poachers after receiving prescribed fees for hunting birds from November to March 15 every year. But they are not allowed to kill the endangered species in their habitats.

In case of violation of the rules, the poachers can be fined amounts ranging from Rs100,000 to Rs500,000, depending on the nature of destruction.

When The News approached the Sindh Wildlife Conservator, his subordinates said he was unavailable, while the other officials claim that they are unaware of the crime.


WISCONSIN OPINION: Deer Baiting Ban Misguided

Rooney notes: I am not sure if agree with the entire argument made here, but parts are well-reasonsed and worth considering.

Dear Editor: Tim Eisele's condemnation of the Department of Natural Resources stakeholders advisory group on chronic wasting disease, of which I was a member, needs a response. This is my personal view.

He fails to tell his readers that baiting has been banned in the CWD zone for five years; has it stopped CWD from spreading? He fails to inform readers that research shows the prion involved with CWD binds tightly to soil and fails to inform us that healthy animals put in a pen 16 years after CWD-infected animals were removed caught the disease. This indicates an environmental reservoir (soil?) exists for years.

In areas of Wisconsin where CWD is not present, no amount of saliva exchange can transmit CWD.

The advisory group got it right, i.e., they recognized the difference between baiting and feeding -- one used to kill deer, the other to protect deer -- something the DNR and some state organizations seem unable or unwilling to recognize.

Eisele fails to tell readers that hunting over bait is the safest hunting method; no hunter has been wounded or killed by another hunter hunting over bait. The same can't be said about deer drives, which are the most dangerous hunting method. Yet we don't hear a safety-conscious DNR or any outdoor writer wanting to get rid of deer drives, just baiting.

But maybe we all have it backward. In the CWD zone where we want to reduce the deer population, maybe we should allow baiting, like DNR sharpshooters did, since an environmental prion reservoir exists, and ban baiting in the rest of Wisconsin where it's not found.

One concern I have is that we allow tens of thousands of gallons of doe urine from deer farms to be spread across our landscape as "buck lure" when a synthetic alternative exists.

I believe the most significant recommendation of the CWD advisory group was to enact regulations restricting movement of whole deer carcasses out of the CWD zone. That, I predict, would do more to prevent the spread of CWD than any baiting ban.

Ken Anderson
Eagle River


TENNESSEE NEWS: 2007 Deer Harvest Down 11% vs. 2006

With the close of last weekends youth deer hunt, the 2007-2008 deer season is in the books. And as expected, the take was below last year’s total of 182,023. As of Wednesday, the unofficial harvest figure for this year is 162,582. There are several excuses bandied about by the wildlife pundits.

In September as the archery deer season was beginning, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency predicted a harvest that could be as much as 30 percent lower than usual, due to a much heavier than normal die-off of deer caused by Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. EHD occurs every year in Tennessee and many other states, caused by a virus spread by a small biting gnat or midge. Tennessee had outbreaks in about 50 counties with a few reporting casualties of 30 percent of the local herd.

The weather was another reason for the decline in deer harvest. The yearlong drought caused a double-digit deficit in rainfall for the year, and a record summer-long heat wave parched what hard and soft mast managed to grow.

Finally, the hot weather in September and October discouraged many bowhunters and muzzleloaders from even going out since the heat could quickly spoil their deer meat.

All things considered, this year’s harvest of 162,582 was only 11 percent below last year, so it could have been a lot worse.


VERMONT NEWS: 14,500 Deer Killed in 2007 Season

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife says 2007 was a good fall for the state's deer hunters.

Officials say that during Vermont's archery, rifle and muzzle loader seasons hunters bagged a total of 14,500 deer.

That's up almost 2,000 over 2006. And the deer are bigger than in previous years.
Biologist Shawn Haskell of the state's deer management team says favorable winter conditions and changes in deer hunting regulations contributed to the numbers.
The regulations prevent hunters from shooting spike horn deer. The regulations allow male deer to grow an extra year before they can be taken by hunters.

The largest buck taken in Vermont last fall weighed 225 pounds and was taken in Orleans.


Monday, January 28, 2008

MASSACHUSETTS NEWS: 2007 Is 10% Below 2002 Record Harvest

hile no records were set during the 2007 deer season, both archers and muzzle loaders came close to highs, according to the MassWildlife preliminary deer report

There were 11,132 total whitetails shot by archers, shotgunners and muzzle loaders, falling below the record in 2002, when 12,264 animals were recorded.

The all-time low was in 1967, when only 1,172 whitetails were harvested.

The record year was when a high number of antlerless permits were allotted in an attempt to put doe numbers in a healthy buck-doe relation.

There were 5,745 deer shot by shotgunners in 2007, as compared to the 8,131 taken by gunners in the record year of 1996.

Archers in 2006 took down a record 3,385 deer, as compared to 3,223 in 2007. There were 18 deer shot by bow in the state's first archery season in 1966. Last season's good weather had more bowmen spending more hours in the field than average.

Black powder hunters shot 2,157 deer in 2007. The high was 2,325 shot by primitive weapons in 2005.

There were seven animals shot during the first muzzleloader season in 1972.

The Western District, once the most popular area to hunt as well as the most prolific, was last in nearly every 2007 category,

The Southeast District, followed by the Central, once again led the state in most harvest categories.


CALIFORNIA NEWS: Cull of Exotic Deer Resumes at Point Reyes

Hunters resumed shooting of nonnative deer in the Point Reyes National Seashore Friday, bringing new criticism from animal rights groups.

The National Park Service approved a plan a year ago to get rid of about 1,100 fallow and axis deer using a combination of contraception and high-powered rifles. A Connecticut company, White Buffalo Inc., killed about 400 of the deer in the summer and fall, prompting an outcry from residents who claimed carcasses were being left out to rot.

The hunters reportedly returned on Friday to a place called Muddy Hollow.
The Humane Society of the United States sent a letter that calls on Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to end the "futile, destructive and inhumane" program. State Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco; U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, have called for a moratorium on the killing.