DNR sees increase in rates of wasting disease in Rock County

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BELOIT — Wisconsin wildlife officials report five deer testing positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Rock County in 2016 out of the 81 that were tested.

Wildlife biologist Julie Widholm said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has seen an increase in prevalence as well as distribution of CWD in the eastern side of Rock County since the county had its first positive test in 2003.

The Associated Press reports that Wisconsin wildlife officials said on Wednesday that they don’t plan to make any changes to the state’s CWD plan at least until the end of the year.

A stakeholder committee has been developing 60 changes to the existing 15-year CWD plan for the DNR. Top priorities include informing people about deer carcass transportation restrictions, improving public understanding of CWD, making sure meat processors and taxidermists know how to properly dispose of carcasses and collaborating with outside researchers. The committee’s lower priority recommendations include double-fencing infected deer farms, implementing local herd reduction in newly infected areas and maintaining the state’s current deer hunting structure.

Widholm said the best test to determine CWD rates is to measure prevalence, which uses historical data and not just the number of deer tested for CWD. For example, though there was only one positive CWD test in 2015 in Rock County only 31 deer were tested. Widholm said 2016 prevalence data will be available around April-May as the DNR’s 2016 testing year isn’t over until the end of March.

In 2003, the adult male prevalence rate in the southeast CWD monitoring area, which includes eastern portions of Rock County, was around 3 percent. In 2015, the prevalence rate for adult males was slightly below 8 percent.

“In general, the prevalence rate has gone up (in Rock County), but not quite to the number we’ve seen in Dane County/Iowa area,” Widholm said.

In the southwest monitoring area on the border of Iowa and Dane counties, the prevalence rate has risen from around 7.5 percent in 2002 to just under 30 percent in 2015.

CWD is a neurological disease that can be spread through contact with other deer, causing them to behave erratically and eventually die.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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