By Carla Bennett
When I was growing up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, my family took drives
at twilight to look for deer. We found them breathtakingly beautiful and
wondered how anyone could shoot them.
Now, decades later, Wisconsin wildlife officials are calling on hunters,
landowners and sharpshooters to kill deer en masse in a desperate attempt to
curb the chronic wasting disease (CWD) that is spreading through Wisconsin's
and ten other states' deer herds. This situation has come about through gross
mismanagement of deer and other wildlife by our hunter-run wildlife agencies.
CWD, also known as mad deer disease, is a deadly brain disease, a
transmissible spongiform encephalopathy caused by misshapen proteins called
prions. Their shape allows them to hook onto normal prions and convert them
into the diseased form. CWD now has spread to deer and elk in eleven states
and into Canada. No one knows when or where it will end, which animals may
have or be incubating the disease, or if CWD can infect people with a new
variation of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), as mad cow disease did in
Some people fear that it can. The daughter of Otto Burns, a hunter who
recently died of CJD, says Burns never did trust the test results he got back
every year from the Colorado Division of Wildlife stating his deer kill was
Beverly Goodman of Fort Worth, Texas, whose father and his best friend died
of CJD, said, "I firmly believe-I think there's a 95 percent chance-my Dad
got a hold of some bad deer. It's ironic that his very, very good friend also
died of it. He was also an avid deer hunter. They shared deer meat at church
James Botts, Wayne Waterhouse and Roger Marten were friends who ate together
at annual wild game dinners. All died from rare brain diseases-Marten was
diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called Pick's disease, and
Waterhouse and Botts were diagnosed with CJD.
The chance of such deaths being coincidental is miniscule.
Dr. Pierluigi Gambeti, M.D., director of the National Prion Disease Pathology
Surveillance Center investigating CWD, won't eat venison. "Why should I?" he
says. "I can eat something else."
Even many hunters are sickened enough to lay down their guns. Who can relish,
or even, for that matter, choke down, flesh that might kill them?
The state game agencies that built up deer and elk herds to sell hunting and
all that goes with it, as well as the farmers who raise these animals for
their flesh, sell them as stock and ship them across state lines, and the
hunters themselves, are in a quandary. The game agencies long ago let the
hunters kill all the natural predators, who would have taken out the sick
animals early on. These agencies also clear-cut land to attract browsing deer
and held all manner of hunts, knowing that hunted deer populations bounce
back even stronger the following year. They did everything they could to
foster the proliferation of deer in obscene numbers for hunters' targets-and
now they are madly rushing to contain the disease that has resulted from
their stupidity and greed by conducting wholesale slaughter of the deer and
It's time to leave the deer alone. Stop breeding them for target practice,
stop raising them on farms, stop shipping them from state to state, stop
killing all the natural predators. Stop this bloodthirsty madness that passes
for sport but isn't.
In 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that the number of
hunters in the United States declined to its lowest level ever, a tiny 4.56
percent of the total population. People, including many hunters, have turned
in droves to hiking, biking, swimming, rock-climbing and other bloodless
So it's high time for governors to stop letting hunters run the state
wildlife agencies and oversee and make all the laws pertaining to our
wildlife. Governor Glendening got the ball rolling when he appointed an
animal advocate to Maryland's Wildlife Advisory Commission, and it's time for
other governors to follow suit with multiple appointments of non-hunters. In
fact, since the number of hunters has dwindled to less than 5 percent of the
population, and as wildlife in this country legally "belongs" to all
citizens, the game agencies should be composed of 95 percent non-hunters.
There are many qualified candidates.
It's time to do right by our beautiful deer and other wildlife.
Carla Bennett is the author of Living in Harmony with Animals and senior
writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
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