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Same universe - worlds apart
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Aldo Leopold, the father of ecology

In 1937, an outbreak of cattle tick fever prompted Florida wildlife officials to embark on a deer eradication program based on the assumption that deer were carriers of the tick, and therefore, the disease. Widely regarded as the father of wildlife ecology, Aldo Leopold had this to say about the matter:

"This episode shows that a scientific bureau, confronted with a question of wildlife eradication, may prefer to lose the wildlife than to lose time in scientific research for alternatives. At best, the scientific base in this case was sketchy and no imagination had been used in searching for less destructive alternatives. It is time for us to learn caution and restraint in our power to eradicate wild things."

At its headquarters near the State Capitol, Department of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Board officials are discussing the external review of the agency's Chronic Wasting Disease Five-Year Management Plan. There is much talk of a more aggressive approach to containing the disease within the 22-county CWD Management Zone in southern Wisconsin.

Methods such as sharpshooting over bait, helicopter raids, and legislation to authorize state officials to enter private property to reduce deer populations are all on the table. Agency officials also reveal a plan to hire a marketing firm to assist with educating the public on the need to stop the spread of CWD.

A few miles to the west, however, the discussion is quite different. Talk there centers on nine-day gun seasons, Quality Deer Management principles, denial of access to private lands for sharpshooting purposes and the elimination of Earn-a-Buck.

Yet another local organization has sprouted, this time the Wisconsin Landowners For Traditional White-tailed Deer Hunting. While opposing much of the DNR's agenda, the founders of the organization support continued CWD testing, research, youth hunts and restoring family-based deer hunting traditions. The group is also supportive of the food pantry program.

The goals of the group are reminiscent of another organization that popped up soon after the agency embarked on its deer eradication program early on in the battle against CWD. By 2003, Citizens and Landowners for a Rational Response had recruited hundreds of landowners and hunters to its cause. That group succeeded in closing off tens of thousands of acres to hunting within what was then the Western Disease Eradication Zone.

Terry Frey, de facto leader of the new group, acknowledges the word eradication is no longer part of the CWD lexicon. A more aggressive approach to reducing the deer herd, however, suggests to him and others that the DNR is about to recycle the idea.

Frey, who lives in the epicenter of the CWD outbreak in western Dane County and eastern Iowa County, was part of the initial Dane County Task Force established in 2002 to examine the issue. He traveled to a CWD symposium in Colorado that same year to learn more.

After eight years of trying to measure the consequences of DNR policies, Frey is convinced a return to a traditional nine-day deer season is necessary. "Now we have a continuous five-month season," he said.

Frey also stresses the impact on non-hunting users of the land who would prefer not having orange-clad deer hunters roaming their neighborhoods. "They are not comfortable out walking around when the deer season is going on," he asserts.

"We're stressing more research instead of sharpshooting or other means of depopulating the herd," said Frey. "Our focus is to put the sanity back into deer management."

Wisconsin Landowners hopes to partner with other like-minded organizations. Steve Fleming, co-founder of Deer Hunters United, welcomes the opportunity to join forces with the fledgling group. With more than 700 members already on board, DHU has filed papers to incorporate as a 501c3 non-profit organization.

Deer Hunters United plans to have its first annual meeting soon to elect officers. "We are working on finalizing bylaws and operating plans and setting up an annual budget," Fleming said.

Frey and Fleming agree that more research is necessary.

"If we're going to eradicate the herd, how are we going to learn anything?" Frey said. He points to other states where culling activities were halted in favor of more research. The Colorado Division of Wildlife discontinued its depopulation efforts in 2006.

Frey contends those unfamiliar with sharpshooting might draw different conclusions about the practice if it happened in their area. "Unless you've had people come in and hunt over bait piles, you don't understand."

"It's a management decision," he suggests. "If 20 deer come in to a bait pile, do they only shoot 10 and let the others go, or do they shoot them all?"

Regarding EAB, Frey understands the complaints, especially among younger hunters and those with minimal time to hunt. "One of the biggest complaints I get is about the son or daughter who can't shoot a buck because they don't have a buck tag."

Frey is perhaps most critical of changing state statutes to allow access to private land. While he acknowledges the agency has the power to do that already (in the public interest), he foresees a landowner revolt in the offing.

And on the decision to hire a marketing firm to conduct a public relations campaign, Frey says, "They're burning daylight trying to change people's minds. They're wasting their money."

The response to the group's membership drive has been overwhelming, he said.

"We have many landowners with thousands of acres signed up, and we're only a few weeks into this. I've never seen landowners and hunters as mad as they are right now. The latest (steps) have hardened attitudes," Frey said.

For more information about Wisconsin landowners for Traditional White-tailed Deer Hunting contact Frey at (608) 220-6366, or Scott Moe at (608) 225-4782.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at