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First-ever positive CWD test in wild Oneida County deer sets businesses, hunters on edgeSubmitted: 04/23/2018

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RHINELANDER - Lined with shotguns and rifles while deer mounts dot the wall above, the north wall of Mel's Trading Post in Rhinelander shows how important deer hunting is to owner Mitch Mode, part of his business that could take a hit after last week.

"It pretty much puts it right in your face and you've gotta deal with it," Mode said.

April 20, the DNR reported the first positive test of Chronic Wasting Disease in a wild deer in Oneida County, specifically in the town of Crescent, within ten miles of a positive CWD test in a wild deer in Lincoln County from January.  Mode hunts on land not far from the positive test.

"Because it's not been local it's not been foremost in people's minds," Mode said of CWD tests. "I suspect that's changed."

Oneida County has been under a baiting and feeding ban since early 2016, after a positive CWD test came from a Three Lakes deer farm. That sparked baiting bans in Oneida, Forest, and Vilas counties.

This month's positive test in Oneida County now extends the ban through 2021 while Langlade County's extends an additional two years. Vilas and Forest counties bans are set to expire later in 2018, pending no new positive CWD tests.

Mode is worried a positive test in a wild deer in Oneida County now changes the game and could scare some hunters away.

"You can't give away big chunks of your business and be comfortable, but in the case of CWD on the landscape now, that may come to that," Mode said.

Some businesses already felt the hit from the first ban. When we spoke with owner Kelly Ramker in late 2015, she noted 75 to 80 percent of her winter business at the Farmers Feed Store in Rhinelander relied on animal feed sales like deer corn. Fast forward to 2018 and Ramker says about half of her winter sales still depend on animal feed.

"Very simply put, it was very scary the first time they implemented the baiting ban," Ramker told Newswatch 12 via text message Monday. "However in any business, you have to overcome and adapt."

Ramker said she's now switched to offering more to dog and cat food, farm feed, and gardening supplies.

Avid hunter and Oneida County Deer Advisory Committee (CDAC) Vice Chairman Roger Sabota supports the baiting and feeding ban, which the DNR says helps stop the spread of c-w-d by keeping deer from gathering in one spot. Science points to deer spreading the deadly disease (which has no cure) via direct contact and through soil.

"If we don't do that, we're going to lose it," Sabota said of state laws that include baiting bans in counties within 10 miles of a positive test and require double-fencing on farms with positive tests.

Last week's test in Oneida County came in thanks to a "disease surveillance permit," which the DNR issued to try and gauge how prevalent the disease is in the area. The DNR will rely on CDAC's like Sabota's to spread the word about testing more deer.

"What hunters can do is really abide by the law and encourage others that they see to get involved. It's a sad situation," Sabota said. "It's bad, but we're going to get through it. If we get more people concerned with it, we get some people with professional backgrounds involved with it... A lot of our businesses are dependent on hunters."

Mode knows it's far too early to tell how much CWD will hurt his bottom line, but he knows new tests should give him a good sense later this year.

"It all comes down to what we will see as far as any additional cases," Mode said. "Is it going to be it at two or is it going to increase?"

Oneida County's CDAC sent its deer quota recommendations to the DNR for approval last week, just two days before news came out of the positive test. That quota is a slight increase over 2017's, set at 945 for the forest zone of the county. Sabota doesn't expect the DNR to reduce that number due to CWD, but he says it's possible.

Currently, there are 35 counties in Wisconsin with active baiting and feeding bans due to CWD. More information on CWD is available via the DNR's website here.

Story By: Lane Kimble

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