GILMAN — The largest deer farm depopulation in Wisconsin history is set to take place this month at a facility in Taylor County, according to the Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Consumer Protection.
The action was ordered by the DATCP after a chronic wasting illness was discovered at the facility, Maple Hill Farms near Gilman, in August 2021.
Disputes over the details of the depopulation, including whether some males could be sold and transferred to a positive shooting reserve at CWD, the source of compensation and the method used to kill the animals, delayed the process until this summer.
About 325 to 350 white-tailed deer are in paddocks on the 40-acre property, said Laurie Seale, owner of Maple Hill Farms.
The number is not known with certainty as fawns continue to be born at the site.
“(CWD) is devastating me and my business,” Seale said. “I know some of my animals will test positive, but it’s not right to kill them all.”
Seale started deer farming in 1989; the main income was obtained by selling large-antlered bulls to hunting ranches.
Maple Hill Farms has shipped 387 deer to 40 facilities in seven states since July 2016, according to DATCP records.
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease of deer, elk and moose caused by an infectious protein called a prion that affects the animal’s brain, according to the CWD-Alliance. The disease is mainly spread by close contact with animals, but prions are also stable in soil and water.
The disease has not been shown to cause disease in livestock or humans. However, health officials do not recommend that humans consume meat from a CWD-positive animal.
Since its discovery in Colorado in the 1960s, CWD has been documented in 30 states and several foreign countries, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center. The disease was detected in Wisconsin in wild and captive deer in 2002.
Wisconsin has 301 registered deer farms and 38 are positive for CWD, according to state data. Twenty, or 54%, tested positive for CWD in the past three years. Twenty of the 38 were depopulated and compensation paid to the owners.
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The disease was discovered in eight Wisconsin captive deer facilities — in Eau Claire, Langlade, Outagamie, Portage, Sauk, Taylor, Vilas and Waukesha counties — in 2021 alone, according to DATCP reports. Two more, in Walworth and Waukesha counties, were added this year.
The disease also continued to spread, slowly but relentlessly, among wild deer in Wisconsin.
Regulation, enforcement, and technology are failing to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in both the deer farming industry and the wild deer herd.
And the ramifications of the disease, including business closures, the immobilization of agriculture and wildlife officials, and costs to taxpayers, continue to mount.
Seale said she didn’t know how the disease ended up on her farm. Maple Hills Farm has a double-fenced perimeter and had been a closed herd since 2015, she said, and was trying to grow a chronic wasting disease-resistant herd through selective breeding.
She lamented that work on her farm to identify more CWD-resistant deer strains was being wiped out with depopulation.
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 also tested positive, as have several other animals since.
The last animal transferred to Maple Hills Farm was from a chronic wasting disease-free Pennsylvania herd, Seale said.
Seale applied last fall for permission to sell and transfer mature bulls to a CWD-positive hunting ranch, a move she says would have provided her with income to feed her remaining animals and save money. money to taxpayers. He was finally refused by the DATCP because the farm was under quarantine.
The federal indemnity will be used to compensate Seale for disposing of the captive herd, according to Kevin Hoffman, DATCP public information officer.
The federal fund allows a maximum payment of $3,000 per animal.
Maple Hill Farms is the largest deer farm depopulation linked to chronic wasting disease in state history, both in the number of animals removed and the amount of compensation paid.
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The largest previous depopulation occurred in November 2015 when 228 deer were killed by the DATCP at Fairchild Whitetails in southeastern Eau Claire County.
The state paid the farm owner $298,000 in compensation in this case. Thirty-four deer from the culled herd tested positive for CWD.
State agriculture officials allowed more than a dozen CWD-positive deer farms to remain open, but on May 18 they depopulated Van Ooyen Whitetails in Antigo. This action, the first in more than a year, removed about 50 deer. The animals were killed by snipers.
The compensation payment to Van Ooyen also came from federal funds, according to the DATCP. The amount was not disclosed.
Seale refused a DATCP plan to kill his deer with snipers and will instead pay a vet to remove them with lethal injections.
“I’ve always taken very good care of my deer,” Seale said. “That’s why I said I don’t care what it costs me, if I’m forced to do a depopulation I’m going to do it in the most humane way possible.”
Depopulation should take two to four days. Staff from DATCP, US Department of Agriculture and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will be involved.
All dead deer will be removed from the site and tested for CWD.