In Walker's Wisconsin, the chronic wasting of political responsibility | WisCommunity

In Walker's Wisconsin, the chronic wasting of political responsibility

Wisconsin's economic strength, its strong educational system and its vital natural resources are wasting away, needlessly, because of a conservative, laissez-faire political philosophy ascendant in this state. Giant iron ore strip mines, frack-sand mining, gigantic animal factories and business development on wetlands have received much more attention than another tragic environmental situation: the continuing spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the state's huge deer population.

State news media -- including Madison's weekly Isthmus and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- have been following CWD developments for years, now, yet here again the state is going backward, not forward, as our state motto assures. From a new look in the Wausau Herald, that city's daily newspaper:

Past CWD-eradication strategies seen as detrimental to herd size drew opposition from hunters and were by lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker. And Walker's so-called "deer czar" a more passive approach to CWD.

That would be deer czar James Kroll, whom Walker hired from Texas to design new ways of managing Wisconsin's hunt. Imagine that: Wisconsin's own natural resources agency, our own sportsmen, our own conservation boards and our own, very adept university biologists apparently had no clue how to handle this. Call up Texas immediately!

Kroll, moreover, arrived from a state where, unlike Wisconsin, many deer are hunted on fenced-in private lands. The problem with that, as Isthmus reported almost three years ago, is that such deer preserves "are breeding grounds for disease," including CWD. 

The other problem is that Kroll's eventual report recommended a "watch and see" approach to CWD's decade-plus presence in Wisconsin. And what's been the result of the Walker administration's embracing of that approach? Again, the Wausau Herald:

Though fewer deer are being tested, the incidence of the disease is up. In the 2014 season, which ended March 31, more than 6 percent of the roughly 5,400 deer tested were positive, a DNR shows. That's an all-time high disease rate; as recently as 2008, it was below 2 percent.

More alarming still, the disease rate among adult male deer has 40 percent in north-central Iowa County and around 25 percent in sectors. And CWD is no longer found only in southern Wisconsin.

Tami Ryan, the DNR's wildlife health section chief, calls these numbers "not a good news scenario" but also not unexpected, given that the state is no longer attempting to manage the disease but is instead just monitoring its distribution and prevalence. Earlier attempts to employ more aggressive strategies were abandoned amid intense public opposition.

"Given that the state is no longer attempting to manage the disease"? What the hell is Team Walker thinking? Apparently, this is simply a political problem. Educating the public and taking heat for painful but vital decisions is just too much for our state's current [insert finger quotes] "leaders."

On the face of it, managing the state's at-risk deer herd and the environment in general is all just a matter of preferring to let the free market of disease vectors and pollution hotspots decide everything naturally, while the commerce department -- er, the DNR -- is made to spend more time granting businesses wetlands easements, lest those employers pack up and move to other more environmentally careless states.

The DNR does have a CWD "plan" that carries out to 2025 -- you can find it and read it for yourself on the DNR web site. But while here and there the report talks in terms of urgency, the fact is that the state's plan does not, overall, indicate that state government perceives a biological management crisis.

Compare the CWD plan's leisurely pace to the speed with which the Walker administration and Republican legislature zoomed into action to allow hunters, with the help of dogs, to go trap and shoot wolves, only recently removed from protected status. A few hundred of those wild animals occupied lead status in news reports for days on end, whereas  millions of deer have not.

Across much of the industrialized world, where avian flu is found on chicken farms, birds are immediately destroyed lest the disease spread more widely and rapidly. But when wild deer that roam mostly free carry the hugely debilitating CWD from herd to herd northward across Wisconsin and across state lines, our state leaders hesitate, lest their actions reduce the number of game animals that hunters might bag. Gosh darn it. Sportsmen might get upset! Including Sportsmen for Walker.

Might CWD someday jump to other wild animals, livestock or even humans, as ebola or bird flu did? Who knows? Let the hunters bag their animals and get out of their way while they're doing it. Wisconsin is open for huntingness.

If we were luckier the reaction to CWD would be an isolated situation. But in Wisconsin, as in America overall, a similar, largely sidelong approach has been taken with regard to massive die-offs in bee colonies, without which the human diet would be limited mostly to grains that bees do not pollinate.

Yet as it becomes clear that bees are dying in huge numbers thanks to hericides, insecticides and perhaps other human-induced environmental changes, we get a big yawn from too many policymakers.

In another context, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp recently said flat out that she's "not a regulator." Right. We already pretty much had that figured out. Why would your government want to regulate hugely harmful human behaviors? After all, it's not like Walker or Stepp and other secretaries and elected officials are the government, or anything.

But never mind. Sit back and relax. Go enjoy your all-wheat, CWD-laced vension sandwich -- if, eventually, you can bag a deer at all, increasingly problematic as disease thins the herd.


April 2, 2015 - 2:58pm