Deer Donation Program Sees More Sampling For CWD

Deer Harvested In 24 CWD-Affected Counties Must Be Tested

Deer running across snow.
Rambling Dream (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Since 2000, hunters have donated more than 91,000 deer for local food pantries as part of the state’s deer donation program. Now, the state is expanding its chronic wasting disease sampling of deer that are donated for the program as the disease has been detected in more counties statewide.

The state requires deer that have been harvested for the program to be tested in 24 counties, which is up from 18 counties last year. Brad Koele, wildlife management specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the six additional counties include Dodge, Eau Claire, Lincoln, Milwaukee, Oneida and Vernon counties.

“We sample either the adult or adult and juvenile deer before they’re donated to the food pantry program,” said Koele.

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Koele said the increase is due to wild deer that have tested positive for the disease in those six counties in 2017. The venison is held until the results of the testing are revealed. But, he said they’ve only found the disease a couple of times in the program’s history.

“If any test results come back, then that entire batch of venison is landfilled and not distributed to any of the food pantries,” he said.

The Wisconsin Department of Health recommends testing in all counties where CWD has been found in wild deer.

Last year, hunters harvested more than 1,500 deer for the program.

“The pantries that receive the venison — they’re always looking for more venison,” he said. “When the venison does hit their shelves, it goes pretty quickly.”

Gina Pearce co-owns Pearce’s Sausage Kitchen in Ashland, which is among the 86 processors that take part in the state’s deer donation program.

“There’s some people that can’t eat certain kinds of meat and they can eat venison,” she said. “There’s other people that can’t afford to eat meat and the donation program gives them that opportunity.”

The BRICK Ministries in Ashland is an organization that benefits from the deer donation program. The group’s executive director Liz Seefeldt said they supply four food shelves in Ashland, Cable, Cornucopia and Mellen.

“We know that that’s just really a sustainable way for people in our area to get by,” she said.

Koele said hunters can donate to the program through the end of the archery season in early January.