- After a chronic disease was discovered at a deer farm in Wisconsin, state agricultural officials ordered the depopulation of the facility’s more than 300 deer.
- CWD is a deadly neurological disease of deer, moose and elk caused by an infectious protein called a prion that attacks the animal’s brain.
- Since it was found in Colorado in the 1960s, CWD has been documented in 30 states and several other countries.
GILMAN, Wisconsin — The largest deer farm depopulation in Wisconsin history is slated for this month, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Consumer Protection.
The action was ordered by DATCP after chronic wasting disease, also known as “zombie deer disease,” was discovered in August 2021 at the Maple Hill Farms facility near Gilman in Taylor County.
Arguments over details of the depopulation, including whether some money could be sold and transferred to a CWD-positive shooting sanctuary, the source of damages and the method used to kill the animals, has postponed the trial until this summer.
About 325 to 350 white-tailed deer reside in pens on the 40-acre property, said Laurie Seale, owner of Maple Hill Farms.
The number is not known for sure as fawns are still born at the site.
“(CWD) is destroying me and my business,” Seale said. “I know some of my animals will test positive, but it’s wrong to kill them all.”
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What is ‘zombie deer disease’?
Chronic wasting disease is a deadly neurological disease of deer, elk and elk caused by an infectious protein called a prion that affects the animal’s brain, according to the CWD Alliance. The disease is usually spread through close contact with animals, but the prions are also stable in soil and water.
The disease has not been found to cause disease in livestock or humans. However, health officials do not recommend that people consume meat from a CWD positive animal.
Where is CWD found?
Since its discovery in Colorado in the 1960s, CWD has been documented in 30 states and several other countries, according to the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center. The disease was discovered in Wisconsin in 2002 in wild and captive deer.
Wisconsin has 301 registered deer farms and 38 are CWD positive, according to state data. Twenty, or 54%, have been found to be CWD positive in the past three years. Twenty of the 38 have been depopulated and compensation has been paid to the owners.
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According to DATCP reports, the disease was found in eight deer centers in Wisconsin in 2021 alone. Two more were added this year.
The disease has also continued to spread slowly but inexorably among Wisconsin’s wild deer.
Regulations, enforcement and technology fail to prevent the spread of CWD in both deer farming and wild deer herds.
And the fallout from the disease, including business closures, tying down agricultural and wildlife officials, and cost to taxpayers, continue to mount.
How Did Deer Disease Get On The Wisconsin Farm?
Seale said she doesn’t know how the disease got to her farm. Maple Hills Farm has a double-fenced perimeter and had been a closed herd since 2015, she said, trying to cultivate a CWD-resistant herd through selective breeding.
The first CWD-positive animal found at the site was a 6-year-old doe born in Maple Hills, Seale said. At least one of his fawns has also tested positive, as have several other animals since then.
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The last animal transferred to Maple Hills Farm was from a Pennsylvania herd that is CWD-free, Seale said.
Are farmers compensated if deer have to be killed?
Federal damages will be used to compensate Seale for the elimination of the captive herd, according to Kevin Hoffman, DATCP information officer.
The federal fund allows a maximum payment of $3,000 per animal.
Maple Hill Farms is the largest CWD-related deer farm depopulation in state history, both in terms of the number of animals removed and the extent of compensation.
The largest previous depopulation occurred in November 2015 – when 228 deer were killed by DATCP in Fairchild Whitetails in Eau Claire County.
In that case, the state paid the farm owner $298,000 in damages. Thirty-four deer from the culled herd tested positive for CWD.
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