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Dangerous Deer

Hunters are out in the woods in southwestern Wisconsin, trying to kill every single deer in order to halt the outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease, which is related to Mad Cow Disease. The Department of Natural Resources has asked hunters to kill all the 25,000 deer in a 361-square-mile area, where 18 deer with chronic wasting disease have been found. There?s no evidence that CWD can infect humans, but hunters are advised not to eat any of the deer, unless they get them tested first.

Now wildlife officials are trying to figure out how they're going to dispose of the tens of thousands of carcasses. The first 250 deer were incinerated at a pet crematorium for $75 apiece, but now they?re looking for a cheaper solution. The landfills won?t accept the dead deer. Some possibilities are dissolving them with chemicals or opening a state-owned landfill. ?We were hoping there would be options that would be less fraught with complications,'' says Sarah Shapiro Hurley, deputy administrator for the state land division. ?If worse comes to worst, we will rent bulk, massive cold storage until we have options. This isn't a situation where we can afford to do nothing and cancel the hunt.''

CWD, like Mad Cow, is caused by proteins called prions. It takes extremely high heat to destroy them, which is why landfills don?t want to take the carcasses. Dane County official Topf Wells says that while studies suggest the health risk from infected carcasses in landfills is minimal, there is ?strong public concern'' that prions could escape when liquid leaches into the ground from buried waste. Dane County's landfill buried about 500 carcasses from an earlier hunt that was intended to determine how far the disease had spread, but has told the DNR they won?t accept any more.

It would cost about $100,000 to bury them in a landfill, but if they have to be incinerated, the cost could reach $1 million.

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