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CWD, public information, veto of SB2493: Illinois deer hunting

Doug Dufford, the wildlife-disease program manager, for the IDNR, answers a question at a CWD meeting at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

MORRIS, Ill. — As I scrambled to leave for an informational meeting about chronic wasting disease Tuesday, an email headlined ‘‘Governor takes bill action’’ popped up.

Normally, Gov. Bruce Rauner announces bill action Friday afternoons. But I knew Senate Bill 2493 was at the end of its 60-day period after being sent to Rauner on July 27, so I reopened the laptop.

What a wonderful surprise to read, ‘‘Today, I veto Senate Bill 2493,’’ from Rauner.

It was a bill so bizarrely proposed — to allow supplemental feeding of wild deer in the guise of a study — that I didn’t heed warnings from current and retired wildlife professionals earlier. I incorrectly had assumed that the bill never would make it out of the General Assembly.

Fortunately, enough pressure built, and Rauner vetoed the bill. There still might be enough votes to override the veto, but I think/hope enough information has reached legislators that there will be no override. But I take nothing for granted. For the first time in years, I am contacting my state senator and representative about a specific bill, just in case there is a push to override.

For those inexperienced about wild deer or used to seeing them being fed illegally at the forest preserves, feeding wild deer changes their behavior. That does two bad things.

The worst is that it leads to unnatural and greater intergroup contact, which is particularly bad when it comes to the spread of chronic wasting disease. One of the primary ways CWD spreads is through body fluids, such as saliva around communal feeding areas.

CWD, an always-fatal disease, causes degeneration of the nervous system. The first case in Illinois was found in November 2002. Since then, CWD has been detected in 17 counties.

The second major reason that supplemental feeding of wild deer, even under the guise of a study, would be bad is that it habituates deer to feeding areas. As a hunter, that leads to unethical hunting and goes against fair-chase principles. It also would be a policing nightmare.

It was a weird juxtaposition to have the veto notification come as I was going to a CWD meeting, something the Illinois Department of Natural Resources holds regularly around the state. I attended the one at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area.

In recent years, the IDNR has been better at explaining how CWD is being managed, both in public meetings and with online information. Illinois’ method — reducing herd size and intensive testing in hot-spot areas — has become the model for CWD management. Infection rates stay below 1 percent.

In recent years, hunters/audience members at the public meetings have shown better knowledge of CWD and have asked better questions.

A couple caught my ear Tuesday.

‘‘Is there a saliva test in the field?’’

Doug Dufford, the wildlife-disease program manager, said not yet. The only field test is an anal swab test more promising in elk than in deer.

‘‘Any chance it might right the ship on its own?’’

There’s some evidence of genetic resistance. There’s hope on a vaccine.

‘‘We’re trying to buy time to allow scientists to catch up to management,’’ Dufford said.

The last thing we need now is a bill that turns the clock back.

The IDNR has a lot about CWD at dnr.illinois.gov/Programs/CWD/Pages/default.aspx.


Deer stand n central Illinois last fall during the rut.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times