Illinois wildlife officials want to persuade landowners in some northern Illinois counties to let them shoot deer to control the spread of chronic wasting disease.
The Rockford Register Star reported that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will be approaching Rock River Valley property owners as part of an effort to limit the spread of the illness, which affects the nervous system of members of the deer family and is always fatal.
Experts say using sharpshooters to cull the herd helps limit the spread of the disease.
State figures show there were 36 cases of chronic wasting disease reported in the state in the 2013 fiscal year.
The first case was reported in Illinois in 2002, and state wildlife officials have since sampled tens of thousands of deer. Since then, 408 cases of the illness have been confirmed, according to state statistics. About two-thirds of those cases were found in Winnebago and Boone counties.
But some hunters are skeptical of the plan.
South Beloit resident Robert Miller says the state should instead extend the deer hunting season.
"The state of Illinois is broken, and then they are still spending thousands of dollars" for state employees to come hunt in the region, he said.
But Doug Dufford, the DNR's wildlife disease and invasive species manager, said cutting down the number of deer in the region is essential for maintaining the health of the herd.
"It's a program that to be honest nobody wants to do. It's very expensive, and it's a lot of work," Dufford said. "It's not particularly pleasant, but it's necessary if we're going to ensure that there's a deer herd in Illinois 40 years from now."
Deer that contract chronic wasting disease become emaciated and uncoordinated and eventually lose weight and die. But some infected deer may not show signs of the illness for 18 months after they've been infected, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.