Kane deer culling turns up no evidence of wasting disease spread

By James Fuller and Jameel Naqvi

A recent mass killing of deer to determine the spread of chronic wasting disease in Kane County and its communities revealed no significant spread of the condition, which is fatal to deer. That's good news for fans of the local deer population. But the outcome could make subsequent testing even more difficult than the latest round.

Officials from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources made presentations in several local communities in February about the discovery of chronic wasting disease in two deer in late 2010. The first was a deer killed by a hunter west of Burlington in November. The second was a deer killed by a hunter near Binnie Forest Preserve in Dundee Township in December. The two incidents were the first evidence that deer in Kane County might have chronic wasting disease.

State officials then struck deals with the Kane County Forest Preserve, Dundee Township, Sleepy Hollow and owners of private property in the area to kill and test 75 deer. Those deals came despite outspoken public opposition from local residents who were skeptical of the evidence state officials presented about the possible local presence of the disease.

The recently released results of the testing showed two more deer testing positive for the disease. But none of the deer shot by the state tested positive. One deer was found by a homeowner on Mary Lane in Gilberts Feb. 11. The other deer was also found by someone outside the IDNR in Sugar Grove near Routes 47 and 30 on March 11.

Dan Ludwig, the regional wildlife biologist who promoted the sharpshooting to local communities, said the spread of the disease recorded by the findings may not be widespread, but it's still noteworthy.

"It's a serious disease of deer, and we don't want to leave it unchecked," Ludwig said. "We're not trying to eliminate the disease, but we want to keep the prevalence low."

IDNR spokesman Chris McCloud said the culling served its purpose regardless of the outcome.

"We didn't do it for nothing," McCloud said. "We did this to gain information. If we don't utilize methods to monitor the disease there's a real danger that the entire Illinois deer herd could be in jeopardy. Chronic wasting disease is certainly something we are concerned about."

Kane County Forest Preserve District President John Hoscheit said he still believes commissioners did the right thing in agreeing to the testing. Yes, the testing didn't show a significant outbreak of chronic wasting disease in the area, but that's good news, Hoscheit said.

Sleepy Hollow Trustee Scott Finney agreed with that assessment. Finney said its his understanding the state has a multiyear plan now to cull and test deer in the area. Trustees will have to approve the testing parameters each time, Finney said. The results of the latest tests are no guarantee for the future.

"I don't know how long it will be before it spreads to us," Finney said.

Ludwig said hunters who volunteer their kills for testing reduce the number the state must test to get a relevant sample. The reason the state resorts to their own sharpshooting, Ludwig said, is hunters typically don't volunteer enough of their kills for sampling. The sampling is free to hunters. Ludwig said he expects the next round of sharpshooting in Kane County will occur in mid-January through the end of March with the permission of the local governments.