By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Another Evers administration foul-up is forcing fawns to be euthanized through another extreme COVID-19 prevention policy.
The Department of Natural Resources rolled out stringent protocols for wildlife rehabilitation centers just days before the late spring birthing season. That left most rehab facilities unable to meet the COVID-19 biohazard requirements in time to take in injured and orphaned fawn. So, many young deer have had to be destroyed.
“They could have given a lot more advance notice. We weren’t notified until May,” said Mark Naniot, director of rehabilitation at Wild Instincts, a wildlife care center in Rhinelander.
In fact, Wild Instincts appears to be one of only two such rehabbers able to meet the protocols. It’s set up to serve a 20-county area with enclosures for 16 fawns. The facility hit its max capacity for the first time in 11 years.
Naniot said he has had to advise people who have found orphaned or injured young deer to leave them where they are or call the DNR. And the DNR’s default switch is to euthanize animals if there is no space available at the limited rehabilitation centers that meet the rigid mandates.
It’s not the actual horrors of chronic wasting disease driving the restrictions, but fear of COVID spreading from deer to the human population that has the Evers administration taking such drastic measures. A study last fall found white-tailed deer are highly susceptible to the novel coronavirus, but have shown only mild symptoms in lab settings, according to Wildllife.org.
“It appears that the risk to wildlife from SARS-CoV-2 is low, but continued vigilance is warranted,” said Jonathan Sleeman, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center, in a session at the virtual 86th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference.
But the nominal threat was enough for the knee-jerk Evers administration to take sweeping measures. DNR’s instinct was to stringently regulate the state’s wildlife rehab centers.
“We had 17 pages of documentation to follow,” Naniot said. Wild Instincts was the first in the state to receive approval. “With the protocols, we have to wear gowns and masks. It looks like we’re walking into a hazmat situation when we’re feeding the fawns.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Patti Stangel, owner of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release in Colfax, who said she’s been taking care of wounded wildlife for 23 years. “You have to go through the protocol and get cleared by the state. If you don’t cooperate with the state, they can take your license.”
As the fawn population soars in the birthing season, there’s nowhere for the injured and orphaned to go. So DNR is “automatically euthanizing fawns” in the name of COVID-19 prevention — even as human case numbers are at their lowest levels since the pandemic hit.
“All the issues we have in this state and he (Evers) is euthanizing fawns. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma). “It’s just another example of this administration looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.”
The DNR did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment. The agency did tell Spectrum News that it is only following the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control, but many states don’t follow the rigid recommendations.
“Instead of putting in a temporary suspension we have incorporated some increased biosecurity requirements and these are coming out of recommendations that the CDC has published on their website,” DNR Wildlife Health Specialist Amanda Kamps told the publication.
“Once a disease gets introduced into a population it’s very difficult to try to control, let alone eradicate or completely get rid of, and we don’t know the affects this virus could have on North American animals,” she added.
One study showed symptoms observed in infected deer were categorized as mild. The risk to wildlife from COVID-19 is also still considered low.
More so, CDC notes that there is no evidence animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to people.
“Based on the available information to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low,” the health agency states.
Yet, DNR’s overbearing protocols are expensive and burdensome for the people who are on Wisconsin’s frontline of wildlife care.
“They’re making life a lot more difficult in an already difficult profession in the first place,” said Naniot, who has been mending orphaned and wounded wildlife for 20 years professionally. “This year we are turning all of these animals away, we’re not able to help them out.”