• After chronic wasting disease was discovered at a Wisconsin deer farm, state agriculture officials ordered the depopulation of the facility’s over 300 deer.
  • CWD is a fatal neurological disease of deer, elk and moose caused by an infectious protein called a prion that affects the animal’s brain.
  • Since being found in Colorado in the 1960s, CWD has been documented in 30 states and several foreign countries.

GILMAN, Wis. – The largest depopulation of a deer farm in Wisconsin history is scheduled to take place this month, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The action was ordered by DATCP after chronic wasting disease, also known as “zombie deer disease,” was discovered at the facility, Maple Hill Farms near Gilman in Taylor County, in August 2021.

Wrangling about details of the depopulation, including whether some bucks could be sold and transferred to a CWD-positive shooting preserve, the source of indemnity and method used to kill the animals, has delayed the process until this summer.

About 325 to 350 white-tailed deer are in pens on the 40-acre property, said Laurie Seale, owner of Maple Hill Farms.

The number isn’t known with certainty because fawns continue to be born at the site.

“(CWD) is devastating me and my business,” Seale said. “I know some of my animals will test positive, but it’s wrong to kill all of them.”

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What is ‘zombie deer disease’?

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease of deer, elk and moose caused by an infectious protein called a prion that affects the animal’s brain, according to the CWD Alliance. The disease is mostly spread through close animal contact but the prions are also stable in soil and water.

The disease has not been found to cause illness in livestock or humans. However, health officials do not recommend humans consume meat from a CWD-positive animal.

Where has CWD been found?

Since being found in Colorado in the 1960s, CWD has been documented in 30 states and several foreign countries, according to the National Wildlife Health Center of the U.S. Geological Survey. The disease was detected in Wisconsin in wild and captive deer in 2002.

Wisconsin has 301 registered deer farms and 38 are CWD-positive, according to state data. Twenty, or 54%, have been found to be CWD-positive in the last three years. Twenty of the 38 have been depopulated and indemnity paid to the owners.

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The disease was found at eight Wisconsin captive deer facilities in 2021 alone, according to DATCP reports. Two more were added this year.

The disease also has continued to spread, slowly but unrelentingly, among Wisconsin’s wild deer.

Regulations, enforcement and technology are failing to prevent the spread of CWD in both the deer farming industry and the wild deer herd.

And the ramifications of the disease, including closing down businesses, tying up agriculture and wildlife officials and costs to taxpayers, continue to mount.

A white-tailed deer walks through a pen July 22 at Maple Hill Farms, a deer farm near Gilman, Wis. The farm is scheduled to be depopulated of deer this month, an action ordered when chronic wasting disease was discovered at the facility last August.

How did the deer disease end up at the Wisconsin farm?

Seale said she doesn’t know how the disease found its way onto her farm. Maple Hills Farm has a double-fenced perimeter and had been a closed herd since 2015, she said, and was attempting to cultivate a CWD-resistant herd through selective breeding.

The first CWD-positive animal found at the site was a 6-year-old doe born at Maple Hills, Seale said. At least one of its fawns has also tested positive as have several other animals since.

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The last animal Maple Hills Farm transferred in was from a Pennsylvania herd that is CWD-free, Seale said.

Are farmers compensated when deer must be killed?

Federal indemnity will be used to compensate Seale for the elimination of the captive herd, according to Kevin Hoffman, DATCP public information officer.

The federal fund allows a maximum payment of $3,000 per animal.

Maple Hill Farms stands to be the largest CWD-related deer farm depopulation in state history both in number of animals removed and size of indemnity payment.

The largest previous depopulation was in November 2015 – when 228 deer were killed by DATCP at Fairchild Whitetails in Eau Claire County.

The state paid the farm owner $298,000 in indemnity in that case. Thirty-four deer from the culled herd tested positive for CWD.

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