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Health cost cure

Federal action needed

By Matt Pommer

September 9, 2002

Matt Pommer

President Bush has repeatedly come to Wisconsin to help raise campaign funds for Gov. Scott McCallum, but the governor needs a different kind of help from the Republican administration in Washington.

The deer hunt is about two-and-a-half months away in Wisconsin, and chronic wasting disease, discovered late in February in the south central part of the state, is casting a dark cloud over this year’s hunt. Hunters and their families will want strong assurances that the venison taken this year will be safe to eat. There are signs hunters are hesitant.

At the end of the third week of August, the sales of deer hunting licenses were significantly below the 2001 levels for the same period. According to state data, resident gun licenses were down almost 30 percent and resident archery licenses were 27 percent below last year. Nonresident gun licenses were down 23 percent, and nonresident archery licenses were 32 percent less than last year.

The Congress had included money to fight CWD in Wisconsin in an omnibus spending bill. Bush vetoed the entire measure as too expensive. At one of the president’s fund-raising trips to Wisconsin, McCallum talked with him about the impact of CWD on the herd and about the economic importance of the deer hunt for the state.

The governor’s people said that Bush told McCallum on Aug. 14 he would speak to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about allowing private testing in Wisconsin. Six days later, the USDA issued a letter ruling out private testing of hunter harvested deer in the state. On Aug. 28, McCallum wrote to USDA, criticizing its decisions. He urged the USDA to establish requirements to allow private labs to test the harvested deer for the disease.

‘Get off the dime’

"Quite frankly, it is way past time for USDA to get off the dime and approve a rapid test," the governor wrote.

Attorney General Jim Doyle noted the state of Colorado has CWD-testing stations that provide results within two weeks. Colorado officials say their testing provides "extremely accurate results."

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Gov. Scott McCallum

Chronic Wasting Disease

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Department of Agriculture

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"Why isn’t Wisconsin doing something similar?" asked Doyle, citing estimates that up to 36 percent of hunters might stay home this fall. That would have a "major impact" on the parts of the state where families depend on tourism and the recreation economy.

McCallum promised to get federal approval for money and establish rules for additional laboratories to test the killed deer. The governor also promised that a process for labeling, tracking and sampling would be in place by Oct. 1. Statistics will be broken down by county and made available to the public, the governor said.

McCallum’s handling of the CWD crisis could be a key to the November state elections. Hunters, regardless of political party, might turn their backs on McCallum if uncertainty lingers over the 2002 deer hunt.

Matt Pommer is the dean of correspondents covering the state Capitol.

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