The spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in Wisconsin’s deer population sparked interest during the regular meeting of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board held in the Boscobel Council Chambers last Thursday, May 12.
Dan Goltz, the DNR wildlife manager for the western half of the Riverway, informed the board that four townships in Richland County are the hot spot of the region, with approximately 35 to 40-percent of their male deer testing positive for CWD.
Given that the disease is spread through the feces and urine of infected animals not yet showing symptoms of the disease, Goltz said, “I’m not surprised at the Richland County increase. I am more surprised at the slow spread of the disease in Grant County.”
Animals are generally infectious for a year and a half before the disease begins to manifest symptoms, according to Goltz.
Board member Ron Leys asked if the disease was more prevalent near deer farms, which he credited with introducing the disease to Wisconsin.
Goltz concurred that the leading theory on the introduction of the disease was through an infected animal being brought into the state for a deer farm, but said there was no clear evidence that the disease was worse near these farms.
“I am absolutely convinced that deer farms are responsible for CWD being introduced to Wisconsin,” Leys responded. “It would have shown up in our neighboring states to the west first if it were naturally spread. The DNR had wanted to shut down deer farms early on, but that idea was shut down at a very high level pretty quickly.”
Goltz noted that deer numbers overall were increasing in Grant and Richland counties, causing him to predict a good harvest this year during hunting season.
Reporting on invasive species control measures, prescription burns, and timber improvements, Goltz noted there are still some crop-share fields available. The DNR has a limited number of fields still used for crop production.
“We are slowly converting these fields to wildlife habitat,” Goltz said. “We just discontinued cropping on one share-cropping parcel due to manure runoff running into a stream.”
The DNR currently has permits on lands in the Eagle, Richwood, and Marietta Units in the Riverway. Goltz requested an extension on those permits, which was granted.
Goltz also reported on his activities with the eagle count.
“We usually fly twice a year and check all of the known eagle nests in a nine county area for signs of use and to look for new sites,” Goltz said.
Asked about osprey populations, Goltz noted they are largely clustered populations and that the southwestern part of the state was less populated due to nesting preferences and quite possible through competition for resources with the rebounding eagle population. Those osprey nests in the region are largely contained to artificial structures such as nesting poles and cell phone towers.
There are currently around 100 eagle nests in the area Goltz surveys and that number is increasing by a few nests each year, he said, making it one of the success stories of conservation linked to banning known harmful substances.
Leys asked Goltz about the possibility of lead sinkers being banned as a conservations effort.
“I haven’t heard anything about that yet, but we certainly know better (than to introduce lead into our waters),” Goltz responded.
“Are there many Golden eagles in the are,” asked board member Robert Cary.
“I have seen a couple at Fort McCoy, but they are really more winter visitors,” Goltz responded. “They favor bluffs, such as those along the Mississippi River. But to my knowledge there are none nesting here.”
Asked about whether the DNR was watching the white pelican population, Goltz replied in the negative, though he is expecting that the DNR will begin to monitor the population should they establish breeding colonies in the area.
“I haven’t seen much activity of beaver and otter,” noted board member David Martin. “Who controls this?”
“Shawn Rossler is the fur bearing ecologist for this area,” replied Goltz.
Goltz noted that he is seeing plenty of activity and tracks from these species in the backwaters. The DNR objective in relation to those species is to maintain populations. So while there is no bag limit at this time for trapping them, the DNR would institute one if the numbers were seen to be falling.
It was noted by Executive Director Mark Cupp that the board is in need of a new member. George Arimond had turned in his resignation. Arimond’s wife was ill and he needed to be more available to assist with their son, who has special needs to care for.
Arimond’s appointment was still pending approval from the governor and legislature. A replacement for his position will be an at-large appointment of three years. Eligible candidates cannot be from a county bordering the Wisconsin River and must be a recreational user. Recreational users are a broad category that can include anything from bird watching to boating to hiking.
It has been noted in recent past meetings that greater gender and cultural diversity is desirable.
Cupp also noted that the board would be electing officers at the June meeting, as well as honoring Arimond for his service.
In other business, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board:
• heard that the bridge replacement plans in Lone Rock have now been pushed back to 2024, with the middle structure due for rehabilitation efforts in 2018;
• heard an update on bridge replacement at Spring Green, which will be similar to the work done on the Highway 133 bridge at Lone Rock;
• heard that the high power electric transmission line route being considered through Southwest Wisconsin appears to no longer be the route through Spring Green, but rather one near Platteville;
• approved permit requests for Helms in the Town of Spring Green, Sable in the Town of Muscoda, Wisconsin Badger Camp in the Town of Millville, and Askevold in the Town of Arena; and
• heard that river flow has returned to normal based on the 100-year average.
The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board will meet next on June 9 at 5 p.m. at the Rhinelander Cabin at DNR BlackHawk Unit in Mazomanie.
Correction: the percentage of CWD infections in Richland County was misnumbered when originally posted. This number was corrected on May 31, 2016.