As an avid deer hunter in Wisconsin, chronic wasting disease or CWD is something that always crosses the back of your mind when you field harvest your deer and when you eventually put a fork to it. If you do not know what CWD is, it is a prion disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose. This prion disease is neurodegenerative, meaning that it can result in drastic weight loss (hence wasting), stumbling, fatigue, and other neurological problems. If you have ever seen videos of deer with CWD it is as if you are looking at a zombie but in animal form. It is quite depressing because they no longer have control over their bodily functions. In 2019, the Wisconsin DNR tested around 250,000 deer across Wisconsin. They found that about 6500 of those deer were infected with CWD. Therefore, you could calculate that approximately 2% of the whitetail deer population in Wisconsin is infected with CWD.
Most of these cases are found in the Southwestern part of the state and 2% doesn’t sound like much but it is a problem no matter how small it might be. This is a problem because we know that this disease can be spread to a variety of ungulates, but we do not know whether it can be spread from ungulate to human. Right now, the only thing we do know is that CWD poses a risk to non-human primates like monkeys that eat meat infected by CWD. This is somewhat concerning since we are very closely related to monkeys. Though no human has contracted CWD from consuming meat from an infected ungulate it is still a very big concern among hunters. If a human ever contracted CWD we could only assume that it could be transferred from human to human and ultimately becoming the next pandemic.
Wisconsin has a total land area of about 34.7 million acres, and about 46% of that area is covered by trees. In the late 1800s or early 1900s, most of Wisconsin timber was cut down for agriculture or just for plain old timber itself. I continue to believe that Wisconsin’s forest is being cut down at an alarming rate due to the need for agricultural land. I believe this because every time I go up north where I hunt, I continue to see the very forests I hunted in getting cut down and used for cranberry bogs or for potato, corn, or soybean fields. However, my eyes have only seen a specific part of Wisconsin get changed drastically by deforestation.
On the contrary, Wisconsin is gaining more forested land ever than before. This is due to multiple factors, but one that is most important is that about more than 50% of Wisconsin forested land is owned by individual landowners. The DNR has continued to educate landowners on the benefit of forest management and wildlife habitat and it seems to be working well. The DNR can help landowners figure out when certain areas are ready to be cut and help identify changes within the woodlot. In addition to the DNR helping landowners, the landowners also receive property tax relief because they either manage their land for recreation, timber income, or wildlife habitat. Therefore, my initial thought of Wisconsin forests being cut down at an alarming rate was wrong and the DNR has actually allowed for Wisconsin’s forests to flourish.
For those who don’t know what a bugle is, it is something that must be heard in order to really understand the beauty of such a call. A bugle is a sound produced by a bull elk used for asserting their dominance and locating other bulls to potentially steal their potential mates. Bugling only really occurs during their mating season, something that only occurs during the months of September and October. I myself have never heard such a coveted sound except for on YouTube, but recently according to the WI DNR the current elk herd in Wisconsin is around 400 elk. When I first heard this my initial reactions were a reaction comprised of surprise and bewilderment, mostly because I had no idea we actually had a viable elk population in Wisconsin at all. This is mostly due to a relationship created in 1995 between the WI DNR and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that helped to reintroduce 25 elk at the time in the Clam Lake Region in Wisconsin. Throughout recent years more elk have been introduced into other northern regions across Wisconsin and it has proven to be a success. Currently, in the Clam Lake region, it’s population of elk is around 185 elk.
These methods of reintroduction have proven to be so successful that in 2018 Wisconsin held it’s first-ever elk hunt, which allowed 10 lucky hunters to harvest a mature bull. The hunt turned out to be a success and was held in 2019 and are currently applications for the upcoming 2020 hunt. If you are interested in applying the application fee is $10 and if you lucky enough to get picked out of the raffle the license fee is currently $49. In addition to that if you get picked you must complete a mandatory elk hunter orientation. If you ask me if this is worth it, I would 100% of the time say yes. I always wanted to hear a bull elk bugle or see them in the wild and Wisconsin is becoming one of those places two do both of those things.
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