Up the Creek: Paid bounties back in the news
By Ken Blomberg
I am old enough to remember when the state paid bounties to hunters for killing predators. The Wisconsin Legislature passed a state bounty in 1865, offering $5 for every wolf killed. Well, I’m not that old, but history tells us this practice was thought to assist preserving dwindling deer populations in the early 1900s. At that time, the state supported the elimination of predators like wolves and their bounty was increased to $20 for adults and $10 for pups. Wolf bounties persisted until 1957. Through the year 1963, bounties were paid out at county courthouses for coyotes, foxes, weasels, crows and ravens. Hawks and owls were unprotected and shot regularly – the practice being justified as helping game animal populations. Science has since proven that wrong. Regulated hunting and trapping of fur bearing predators still exists and keeps close tabs on both predator and prey populations.
Recently, bounties are back in the news. But not for predators. The target in the cross hairs today are whitetail deer. Deer carrying Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The infection rate is getting worse every year. In some southern counties, the infection rate is about 50 percent among adult bucks, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Statewide in 2018, 1,019 CWD-positive deer were detected among 16,735 tested, or 6 percent. Portage County has been labeled a CWD county.
And apparently you will soon have a chance to vote on a proposed $1,000 bounty to hunters and landowners that take out diseased animals from the growing infected herd. Do I have your attention now?
The program, now referred to as Payment for Positives, would provide a cash payment (bounty) to hunters and landowners who kill, sample and register a CWD-positive deer. Business owners who provide sampling services also would be compensated. The Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) has announced it will put the question before the public on April 8th at the 2019 Annual Spring Fish and Game Hearings in all counties. Question number 12 is among WCC advisory measures and reads, “Conduct a pilot CWD Payment for Positives program in 2019.” The question is; Do you favor conducting a pilot CWD Payment for Positives program to test if CWD testing rates and removal of CWD-positive deer can be increased from infected areas?
According to Mike Foy, a retired DNR wildlife biologist, “The program will provide substantial rewards to landowners and their hunters who remove CWD-positive deer on a completely voluntary basis, guided by prevalence maps. Provide smaller reward to cooperating sample stations, meat processors, taxidermists, CWD contractors and other small businesses that collect CWD positive samples with good data too.” The original proposal awarded $1000 to landowner, $1000 to hunter, and $300 to small business sample taker for each CWD-positive deer taken. The hearing question will describe three funding levels ranging from payments of $750, $1,000 or $1,250 for each CWD-positive deer. When payments to participants are made, and estimated positive deer are harvested, it would cost between $900,000 and $1.4 million.
A small price to pay to save our Wisconsin deer herd and the 1.3-billion-dollar industry it supports.