MADISON — The Department of Natural Resources is shifting processing deer for chronic wasting disease to the State Game Farm near Poynette beginning next year.
The State Building Commission on Monday approved spending $1.65 million to construct a 4,500-square-foot building to process samples from deer, elk, moose and other wild hoofed and ruminant species in the state.
CWD is a fatal contagious prion disease of deer, elk and other hoofed ruminant specifies. It has been found in North America, South Korea and Europe. To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to study the disease for possible effects on humans.
The processing center also will be used to treat sick deer, conduct necropsies, dispose of deer waste and train staff. The center at N3344 Stebbins Road will have sampling labs, a preparation area, walk-in freezer and coolers, a break room, offices and a waste holding tank.
From April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019, the DNR analyzed 17,244 deer statewide for CWD at a leased property in Black Earth. The five elk shot by state hunters in the first elk hunt in decades, were also supposed to be tested for CWD. Of the deer analyzed last year, 1,063 tested positive for CWD, with 1,040 of those deer taken in the southern half of the state, according to DNR records.
CWD processing was intended to be conducted in an addition to the DNR Science Center in Monona. However, during the pre-design study stage for the new center, a consultant concluded the Poynette Game Farm was a preferable site due to lower construction costs and its proximity to the CWD Western Monitoring Area, which began in parts of Dane and Iowa counties.
Information about whether that area may have been modified since it was established in 2002 was unavailable for this report from a DNR spokesperson.
The Monona property was purchased in June 2018 for $6.2 million, leaving $1.65 million left in the budget to construct a CWD processing lab, and the decision was made to relocate the processing center to Poynette, according to the DNR.
A Building Commission committee approved the project without discussion.
The processing site is about 40,000 square feet and will accommodate employee parking, refuse collection and room for vehicles to maneuver.
Construction is to begin in November and be completed in October 2020.
The DNR wants hunters to take samples from deer for CWD testing as soon as possible after being harvested. The samples needed for CWD testing are located near the base of the deer’s skull and first several inches of neck. If the head and neck are kept at a temperature 45 degrees or below, a sample can be taken up to five days after harvest. If the time between harvest and sampling will be longer, then the head should be frozen until it can be taken in. When removing the head, a hand-width length of neck needs to remain in order to obtain the proper samples, according to the DNR.
The CDC recommends hunters wear gloves while field dressing deer, avoid the animal’s fluids and have deer tested for CWD before consuming it.
After being detected in Dane County 17 years ago, the state began an extensive surveillance program and established an eradication zone in parts of Dane and Iowa counties to combat the disease. The state has closely monitored the presence of CWD, which has been detected in wild deer in 26 of the state’s 72 counties. Eighteen of the 26 counties are in the southern half of the state. Annual CWD detections show the disease is slowly broadening in area, according to the DNR.
The MacKenzie Nature Center is adjacent to the game farm on a 285-acre property and has interpretive trails, exhibits, museums and programs available for school and youth groups, according to the DNR. Admission to the center is free. The State Game Farm is closed to the public.
The state’s pheasant breeding program has been housed at the game farm since the early 1930s. About 330,000 eggs are incubated annually and about 250,000 chicks are hatched in between early April and the end of June. Chicks and hens are sold to the public. About 60,000 chicks are reared indoors for six weeks then transferred to outdoor ranges until the fall hunting season when they’re released on a weekly basis at public hunting grounds.