Deer culling to continue in Kane County even as disease drops
State officials could cull a record number of deer from Kane County forest preserves in 2018, even as the number of deer tested for chronic wasting disease has declined.
Officials supporting the request to cull in Kane County preserves said the numbers are evidence the state's program works.
Sharpshooters with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources began culling deer in Kane County to test for the always-fatal neurological disease in 2009. Officials have requested, and received approval, to cull up to 130 deer a year since 2014. Roy Domazlicky, a biologist with the state agency, asked forest preserve commissioners Thursday to take up to 135 deer next year.
The request to cull more deer comes despite 2017 being a relatively good year for the local deer population.
The district's hunting program found no deer with the disease. That was a first since the 2014-15 season. Likewise, the state's culling found five deer with the disease, three fewer than the preceding year. Only one of the five deer testing positive was in a district forest preserve.
The state's Kane County deer culling program will run Jan. 16 to March 31. Domazlicky said even though his agency asked to cull 130 deer last year, they actually shot and tested only 80 deer.
Domazlicky said preliminary findings in a recent Centers for Disease Control study indicate chronic wasting may pose a risk to nonhuman primates for the first time. There are no known human cases, Domazlicky said. However, the CDC is advising all deer be tested in areas where the disease has been found before consumption. Forest preserves are key to that effort.
"The preserves really have the highest-, best-quality habitat for deer," he said. "We don't go in places where the disease hasn't already been found. But in areas with the disease, reducing the deer concentration is really quite important."
Domazlicky said the agency will not cull deer in the Blackberry Maples and Grunwald Farms preserves in Elburn. Testing found no deer with the disease in those preserves for the past five years. However, new positive cases will require culling in the Burlington Prairie and Elgin's Burnidge/Paul Wolff preserves. Those areas were not included in the program last year.
Kane County Board member Barb Wojnicki was the only commissioner to speak out against expanded culling.
"I'm getting a lot of calls, some from people who have hunted on open land for 40 years, saying they are not catching deer any longer," she said. "I'd like to adjust the amount."
Commissioner Becky Gillam said the district spends thousands of dollars on seeds and plantings that an overabundance of deer can decimate in a short time. While state officials admitted they have not taken an accurate count of deer in county preserves for two years, the district staff said their own counts and visible impacts to the preserves support the need for culling.
Forest preserve district President Mike Kenyon said Wisconsin's lack of a culling program to head off the disease early on has resulted in an endemic spread throughout that state's deer population. He advised Wojnicki to re-evaluate the information her constituents provide her about local deer.
"You have to be aware of taking the word of hunters," Kenyon said. "They don't want any competition. The hunters are always crying to me."