Collapse bottom bar
Conservation & Politics Deer Illinois Whitetail

CWD Control Efforts Divide Hunters, DNR

by David Hart   |  June 25th, 2012 13

SharpshooterFacing a shrinking budget and public backlash, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is considering changes to its current chronic wasting disease control efforts, including the use of sharpshooters to reduce deer numbers. Hunters in northern Illinois couldn’t be happier.

“I hunted every day for 11 days straight and never saw a single deer,” said Illinois Bowhunters Society Regional Director Jim McFarlane. “It’s been terrible.”

A lifelong Illinois resident, McFarlane said efforts to control the disease have led to a deep divide and a serious breach of trust between the deer hunting community and the IDNR. He and other hunters wonder why the state has to use hired guns when hunters themselves would be more than willing to step in. Last winter, sharpshooters killed 1,475 deer in the 10 counties known to harbor the disease and nearly 11,000 since control efforts were undertaken in 2003. Up to 28 percent of local deer populations were killed by sharpshooters.

“We want hunters to go in first. If they can’t get the job done then let sharpshooters take over,” said McFarlane, a 61-year-old engineer from Rockford. “A lot of the sharpshooting efforts are taking place in forest preserves and parks that don’t allow hunting. That’s their excuse. Why can’t they let us in? Someone is going to be killing deer. Our taxpayer money is going to this when we could be doing it for free.”

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease that was first discovered in captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967 (it’s not transmissible to humans). Since then, it’s been found in wild and captive deer, elk, and moose in 19 states and two Canadian provinces. CWD was first detected in Wisconsin in February 2002 and was the first known appearance east of the Mississippi River. Eight months later, biologists in Illinois detected it in Winnebago County. Since then, the state has tested about 58,000 deer, with 336 testing positive.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director of Resource Conservation Jim Herkert said lower deer numbers are just one of the consequences of trying to control CWD. Along with sharpshooting efforts, the DNR relaxed bag limits, which allowed hunters to take unlimited antlerless deer during the 108-day archery season, among other measures.

“We do know that if we draw back our control efforts, we will see an increase in the prevalence of the disease. That’s happened in other states. There is a pretty clear trade-off,” Herkert said.

But at what cost, wonders McFarlane. He admits his experience with low deer populations are purely anecdotal and don’t reflect the entire northern Illinois hunting community. However, he’s heard similar reports from numerous other hunters, particularly those hunting in areas close to the sharpshooting efforts. So has Dave Wiehle, 70, who also lives in northern Illinois. Once supportive of the efforts, he has turned into an outspoken critic of the DNR’s efforts, calling the agency’s culling efforts “mass murder.”

“I have a friend who gave the DNR permission to come onto his land to shoot some deer for sampling. He told them not to shoot bucks because he manages his land for quality deer, but they did anyway,” Wiehle said. “The DNR basically destroyed any relationship it had with hunters in this part of the state. The DNR is broke, the state is broke, they raised license fees on us, and now they are using hunter’s money to exterminate the deer herd. Deer hunting is big business in this state, and the DNR is doing everything they can to ruin it. They tried the same thing in Wisconsin, and they had to stop it because everybody got so pissed off.”

The CWD efforts in Illinois were indeed similar to those in Wisconsin. Soon after the disease was discovered there, the Wisconsin DNR instituted what was known at first as an eradication effort in the region with the highest prevalence. Sharpshooters began shooting every deer they could in an effort to slow the spread of CWD.

“In hindsight, eradication was the wrong term. The public viewed it as an effort to eradicate deer,” said WDNR Assistant CWD Coordinator Tim Marien. “We changed it to a control and surveillance effort.”

Despite the change, the WDNR ended the sharpshooting program in 2007 due largely to negative public reaction. The hunting community remains suspicious of the WDNR, which hired a public relations company to help smooth out the differences. Things are even more contentious in Illinois. Wiehle said he doesn’t know of any hunters who support the DNR’s efforts to control the disease. He attended a public meeting held by the DNR last winter that turned into a heated debate between hunters and DNR personnel.

“There were a couple hundred people there. Not one spoke in favor of the DNR or the CWD work, except the DNR employees,” he said. “The time to take another look at the CWD program has long passed.”

Even non-hunters have had enough.

Last February, Winnebago County officials voted to ban the DNR from any more

sharpshooting efforts within the county. A citizen-led effort to end culling efforts in Dundee Township, however, was defeated 49 to 44 by a popular vote at a township board meeting in April. The board voted last December to allow DNR personnel to shoot 20 deer from a local nature preserve but met strong resistance from hunters and non-hunters soon after the effort started.

McFarlane isn’t opposed to efforts to control CWD or even efforts to knock down local deer numbers. However, what bothers him is that there is a clear disconnect between the agency in charge of managing wildlife and the hunting community. Herkert said his agency is planning to survey area residents to get their take on the disease and the efforts to control it by the DNR, something McFarlane said should have happened long ago.

“We don’t know how many people are opposed to what we’ve done in relation to CWD,” Herkert said.

What do you think? Should state wildlife agencies enlist the help of sharpshooters to curb the spread of CWD?

  • Ron

    DNR?, Do Nothing Right, pretty much sums it up. So my answer is no.

  • hvshields

    Instead of wholesale slaughter of the deer herd – whether by hunters or sharpshooters, Wisconsin and Illinois should discontinue landspreading sewage sludge biosolids. The US EPA says sludge can contain infectious human (Alzheimers and sCreutzfeldt Jakob) and animal prions (mad cow and chronic wasting disease).

    Renown prion researcher Dr. Joel Pedersen, Univ/Wisconsin found prions can become 680 times more infective when bound to soil. Sewage treatment does not inactivate prions.

    Livestock and deer ingest prion infected soil (and sludge) with their fodder and become infected. Prions have been found in muscle tissue, blood, mucous, saliva, urine and feces – human and animal.

    In the July 3, 2010 issue of VETERINARY RECORD, Dr. Pedersen stated: “Finally, the disposal of sludge was considered to represent the greatest risk of spreading (prion) infectivity to other premises.”

    Helane Shields, Alton, NH

    • Ed Nagel

      Colorado has been dealing with this issue for 20 years. A friend of mine owns a elk ranch outside of Fort Collins where Colorado State University does CWD research. What people need to realize is if you have cwd in your state you are not going to get rid of it. Deal with it by hunting the animals, pay $20.00 to have the brain tested and if it is tests negative go ahead and eat the animal like you normally would do. If it tests positive let the DNR know and let them dispose of it.. Its in the soil, not just the deer.

  • Roxann Wilson

    Illinois is as broke as a joke (50th out of 50) so then where in the world do they find money to hire sharpshooters? The insanity fits the Illinois bureaucracy perfectly. This is a classic example of how logic isn't applied so they can get even further into debt. Were they using Union Sharpshooters?

  • jerry

    oh wait a bit, aren't these educated and people motivated wildlife officals and state porkeys? No wonder, they allways know whats best.

    • Jacob Haus

      Using incoherent English to slam the education of wildlife professionals makes you come off as pretty foolish. I work daily with wildlife professionals; I am one myself. Not only are they very bright folks with a strong academic background, but they generally have twice the experience in the field as a seasoned hunter. Hell, most of them are seasoned hunters themselves. These are complex issues and our hands are usually tied when it comes to making decisions that are good for both the hunters and the deer. The one thing I can assure you though, is dissension between the two interest groups will gets us nowhere. Wisconsin is a prime example of that….

  • shootbrownelk

    I say use licensed hunters to curb deer numbers, let the DNR make some money doing the job instead of pissing it away hiring "Sharpshooters"….what the hell is a "Sharpshooter" anyway? A relative of someone in State government or the DNR? Annie Oakley was a "Sharpshooter"….do these guys do tricks too?

  • John ODonnell

    CWD is not going away. You can start prevention by closing game preserves (canned hunts) and the domestic breeding of deer and elk. Hunters must also understand and except the concept that piles of bait (corn, apples) is bad.. "Sharpshooter" ( a politicians term) and deer birth control (another wet dream) are nothing more than the non huntingpublics anti hunting reaction to what they dont understand. Deer hunting in Illinois is a big dollar commodity. Ask anyone who buys a non resident tag (archery or gun) about the cost of the tag and the other money spent while visiting Illinois. Maybe the Blago/ Obama crowd should return some hunter money back to research and really get to the bottom of the problem . Its no joke that some of that regoin economy is heavily dependent on a healthy vibrant deer herd.

  • ex-Il-resident

    Wildlife professionals?" Seasoned Hunters"? What a joke. Jacob you and your buddys are nothing more than a bunch of poachers with a badge! Don't worry before long you will be out of a job just keep posting every inch of public land and turn it into a forest preserve!

  • Duwane

    I have been communicating via email with one of the region wildlife biologists, and got the facts that i already knew. They are exterminating the deer heard and calling it management. Thanx to Blogoyevich they have no money for aireal or ground head counts, so they are killing without any factual numbers to support thier decisions. I, like others have seen an overnight difference in the deer heards. I have hunted several spots hard for over 15 years and all of the public land has been pretty much eradicated. Just think, we stepped in in Bosnia because they were killing off a certain part of the population. we need to band together and stop this idiotic attempt to solve a problem that mother nature will take care of by herself. If they want to stop the disease, stop the urban sprawl that is confining the deer to smaller pieces of land than any type of feeding or baiting could possibly do. Enough said for now.

  • gary forsythe

    Illnois state revenue for hunting will decline not only in license and permit applications but as well as all the gimicks that are advertized on hunting movies on TV. Also not only has the illinois DNR turned loose their sharpshooters they have also introduced Cougars and wolves in the nothern part of the state. soon they will begin to multyply and start attacking calves, sheep horses, poultry and even small children if left susceptable.

    Where have these people at the DNR recieved their "BRAINS" from. They are truly un- educated and have not the faintest Idea as to what they are doing. If anyone reading this is "computer Savey enough" I would appreciate if they could cut this clip from me and send it tp Paul Shelton who is one of the big "HONCHOS" from Illinois DNR and also if you can forward it to Chicago channel 7 eye witness news. Illinois is broke and going more broke and we don't need iliterate folks in our government making decisions when they have no idea what they are doing. Just an FYI. My friend had a deer hanging in his smokehouse a couple weeks ago. went out to check it and a growling cougar was camped out over it. He notified DNR and they even told him that they had turned loose either 6 or 6 pair of cougars in our immediate area. Also told him he could not kill the cougars. Well I can say one thing and that is that the cougars best no show up on my property. Also all this venison that the DNR'S sharpshooters are throwing into dumpsters could feed a lot of starving people.

  • Robin

    Let the licensed hunters enjoy the hunting experience and the meat! Inform the public about the Prion infected soils, and how long it can stay in the soils. Legthen the Illinois gun season and open up new areas. The thought of my licensing fees paying sharpshooters really ticks me off! Pretty soon the decline of deer herds will convince hunters not to buy a license and hunt. Maybe then the money will not be there to pay for the extermination.

  • Biologist Bruce

    To expand the prion discussion, these vectors of the disease can live dormant in the soil for years and then become viable again when the vectors come in contact with the mucous of a feeding deer. Bottom line is that it is very difficult to eradicate this disease by any means. To clarify a misconception about "Sharpshooters", the original sharpshooters were Federal sharpshooters paid by the Feds. The name stuck when the DNR took over the function. It is my understanding that the Feds subsidized the early years of the program.

back to top