A deer farm in Washburn County suffers from chronic wasting disease

BIRTCHWOOD, Wisconsin — A captive deer at a hunting preserve in Washburn County has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Consumer Protection.

On Thursday, the agency reported that a 3-year-old doe at Thunder Trophy Whitetails Hunting Farm near Birchwood tested positive with results from the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

The 150-acre hunting preserve and deer ranch is under quarantine, meaning no animals can be shipped off the property, as veterinarians and employees of the USDA conduct an epidemiological investigation.

Neil Patten, a spokesman for the government agency, told the News Tribune that there are another 300 deer still on the property. It is unclear how many people may have CWD.

If the disease spreads, the remaining deer on the property will likely be killed. This has happened in several cases across Wisconsin, including more than 300 deer on a single farm in Taylor County last year.

The final decision on whether to depopulate a farm depends on the danger the herd may pose to other captive herds or to surrounding wild deer populations. If remaining in business is an option for a CWD-positive facility, the farm must comply with the strict regulations imposed on it by the Quarantine Order. All quarantined herds are required to test 100% of deaths due to CWD.

It is the first positive case of CWD in Washburn County in a tame deer. The county had one previous case in a wild deer. A tame deer also tested positive in Burnett County. Birchwood is located about 90 miles southeast of Superior.

So far there have been no positive tests from wild or tamed deer in Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, Iron or Sawyer counties — among the few counties in the state without a history of CWD.

There are 301 deer farms, game ranches, and reserves in Wisconsin — at least 18 of them operating with known cases of CWD already confirmed.

CWD is an almost always fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose and is caused by an infectious protein called a prion that affects the animal’s brain. The state regulates deer farms for registration, record keeping, disease testing, animal movement, and permit requirements.

CWD throughout North America

Chronic wasting disease has now spread to 31 states and four provinces. Southern Wisconsin has always been a hotbed of the deadly deer disease.

Contributed/National Wildlife Health Center

CWD is widespread throughout much of North America in both wild and captive deer herds. Wildlife biologists believe that the movement of deer between deer farms, and between deer farms and fenced game reserves, is one reason the disease is so widespread. The disease can remain active even outside the body, such as in soil, long after the infected animal dies. The animal can also transmit the disease through saliva and feces.

Since its discovery in Colorado in the 1960s, CWD has been documented in 31 states, four Canadian provinces and several foreign countries, according to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center. The disease was first discovered in Wisconsin in wild and captive deer in 2002.

Minnesota lawmakers this year banned any new deer farms in the state and added several restrictions for existing deer and elk farms to continue operating, including turning over regulation of deer farms to the Department of Natural Resources.

John Myers

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at

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