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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A prominent sportsmen's group wants Gov. Scott Walker to crack down on captive deer farms as he considers revising the state's chronic wasting disease tactics.
The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation's letter to Walker, announced Thursday, asked him to impose regulations designed to keep CWD from spreading from captive deer to wild deer. The recommendations include requiring farms to double fence, installing warning devices that can detect open gates and annual fence inspections by the state or an independent inspector.
The letter also suggests that farmers be required to inspect their own fences at least monthly and immediately after any major wind storms. They would have to kill their herds within a month if they haven't double fenced and one of their deer tests positive for CWD. They also would have to maintain liability insurance to cover any damages to the state resulting from escapes.
The DNR recorded 29 escapes from deer farms in 2015 alone. Nevertheless, the agency in December adopted an emergency rule allowing farmers to opt of the state's CWD program without upgrading their fences.
Before that rule, farms that refused to participate in monitoring had to install double fencing. The new rule allows them to keep single fences and not submit to monitoring, although farms still can't import or export deer unless they're in the program. DNR officials said it was designed to simplify farms' regulatory burden, but the federation opposed the change out of concerns it would lead to more infected captive deer escaping.
Deer farms aren't to blame for spreading the disease, Rick Vojtik, president of the Whitetails of Wisconsin Association, which represents game farms and hunting preserves in the state, told The Associated Press. Rather, he believes birds are moving the disease from the wild herd into captive deer and he doesn't understand how double fencing would make a difference.
"We're going to spend millions and millions of dollars (on fencing) for nothing," Vojtik said. "(CWD is) everywhere in the wild now."
A number of deer escaped from Vojtik's farm near Fairchild in May 2015 due to a storm and again in September after vandals cut his fence, he said.
Between the escapes, one of his does tested positive for CWD. State agriculture officials instructed Votjik to kill his 229-deer herd, which he did in November in exchange for nearly $300,000 in state compensation. According to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, 33 of the deer tested positive.
Democrats have been pressuring Walker's administration to do more to contain CWD after infection rates hit an all-time high last year. The DNR initially tried to eradicate as many deer as possible after the disease was discovered in the state in 2002, but backed off after intense public backlash. The agency's current plan allows for reducing local herds in areas of infection far from known clusters but emphasizes monitoring.
Walker, a Republican, announced last month he's considering a proposal from Democratic state Reps. Chris Danou and Nick Milroy to require double fencing on deer farms and adopting Illinois' strategy of killing as many deer as possible in infected areas. The governor said last week his administration plans to come out with new proposals within the next month.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the governor "welcomes the constructive input" from the federation and will consult with the DNR as he evaluates the group's recommendations.
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