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IDNR vital in fighting chronic wasting disease

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I have been collecting some incredible emails over the past couple of years asking me to investigate why the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is out there killing whitetail deer.

I’ve been told things like, “They killed every single deer in Moraine Hills State Park.”

I’ve read, “Why has the DNR killed half of the deer in McHenry County?”

One letter gave an answer, “You know that the State is killing all the deer because the insurance companies are pressuring them to do it because they’re losing so much money over cars crashing into deer.”

My favorite is, “Why can the IDNR kill deer right before the season starts by baiting them, and hunting at night using rifles? I can’t do any of that.”

Yes, the IDNR is harvesting deer but not for insurance purposes. The reason is called “Selective Deer Management.” I have called it “thinning the herd” in the past, and I am entirely wrong.

As hunters, we are the ones who “thin the herd.” The IDNR is trying to curtail the spread of the dreaded chronic wasting disease until a cure can be found. If they don’t selectively kill some animals, CWD will “thin the herd” to possible extinction.

I met with IDNR wildlife biologist Ray Eisbrener, who graciously answered all of my questions and gave me a thorough explanation of the program. Ray is a down-to-earth, common-sense guy who has hunted whitetails for 25 years and has three Pope & Young bucks to his credit.

People think that the IDNR is harvesting trophy males. That is not necessarily correct. Older animals are more likely to carry the disease and much more likely to roam from county to county or from state to state. Yes, they want to harvest older animals, but at the time they kill the deer, it cannot be shown whether an animal is male or female, so they aren’t just after big bucks.

I get asked why the IDNR just doesn’t shoot the deer that are carrying the disease. I was told that CWD is not something that can be seen in live animals. It shows up physically about two weeks before the animal drops dead. They cannot identify animals that need to be taken out. What they do is to try to eliminate deer that are the most likely to have and spread the disease.

The rumors of how many deer are killed and how much CWD is out there are greatly exaggerated. CWD has been found in only 10 northern Illinois counties, and the total number of deer found to have CWD is a mere 326 since 2002. Please realize that the IDNR tests close to 8,000 animals a year.

So, how many deer does the IDNR selectively manage? In 2010-11, the IDNR removed 990 deer in contrast to the 14,808 harvested by hunters in the 10-county area. That is less than 7 percent of the total number of deer harvested by hunters in the 10 counties. That is a tiny fraction of the total deer in residence.

In 2010-11, 42 deer tested positive in 10 counties, and the disease made its debut in Grundy, Kane and JoDaviess counties. It is important to limit the spread because whitetail hunting is a $3 billion a year industry in Illinois, and a widespread CWD outbreak could devastate the sport.

Is the IDNR’s Selective Deer Management Program working? I’d say it is, as best as can be expected. The rate for CWD-infected whitetails in Illinois is less than 2 percent, as opposed to 4 percent in Wisconsin. Believe it or not, Colorado and Wyoming have close to 50 percent CWD exposure in their populations of mule deer. And yes, CWD will cross species lines and can affect mulies, moose and elk.

For those who complain about the state’s methods of killing these deer, they don’t do it just before the season. They operate for a 10-week period in late winter and early spring.

Yes, they get to bait and use rifles, and we don’t. Think about it, folks. They are doing what they do for science, not for sport. The IDNR is allowed to net fish and to use electro-shock to capture fish. Do you think that anglers should be allowed to do that, as well? Of course not. So don’t try to compare what we do as hunters to how the IDNR manages its selective deer kill.

Is the IDNR program a success? I believe it is.

According to an IDNR statement, “Our approach has resulted in relatively low and stable disease rates, rather than the increasing trend that is the norm elsewhere.”

Hunters always pipe up that they should be the ones to be the selective managers of the deer population. That would be great, but the truth is that hunters don’t shoot enough animals, and they just don’t turn enough animals in for testing for CWD.

Hunters during all seasons, archery, shotgun, muzzle loader, and late-season are encouraged to allow samples of adult deer to be taken for CWD testing. There are a number of locations throughout the state where this can be accomplished. Check the IDNR website at www.dnr.illinois.gov.

You no longer are mandated to check in deer during archery season, only during shotgun season. Since this was established a few years ago, there is a smaller percentage of animals turned in for sampling. Please make the extra effort to have your harvested deer sampled.

If you elect to have your deer sampled, it is a quick process and only a tiny portion of the animal is used. They take the sample and you can get it processed right away. If the deer is found to have CWD, you are notified in a short time, and the IDNR even offers a cash incentive to help recover the cost of your processing if you decide to throw the meat away.

It’s going to be up to science whether CWD will be eliminated, but the IDNR is stepping up big time to keep it under control. They need our cooperation, not the spreading of vicious rumors.

• Northwest Herald outdoors columnist Steve Sarley’s radio show, “The Outdoors Experience,” airs live at 5 a.m. Sundays on AM-560. He can be contacted at sarfishing@yahoo.com.

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