WE MIGHT develop a new profession and boost farm revenue at the same time if the public supports a pilot project that would pay hunters for every deer they turn in that has chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The proposed program is called CWD Payment for Positives (P4P). The initial estimated payments range from $750 per positive deer to as high as $1,250 per positive deer — and both the hunter and landowner receive that amount.

The third option in the example is $1,000 per CWD-positive deer.

“When payments to the hunter, landowner and sampling site are all factored in, the three examples would cost an estimated $900,000, $1.15 million and $1.4 million, respectively,” says the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

The projected expenses include 500 payments to hunters and landowners for the 500 positive deer, and a $300 payment to the sampling site business owner for each deer.

The proposed pilot program will be up for a vote at the spring fish and game hearings in every county Monday, April 8. It’s an advisory question because the program would require legislation.

Imagine owning land or knowing a landowner in parts of Iowa County where the CWD infection rate among adult bucks is 50%. At $1,250 per positive deer, the program could change the way some hunters and farmers look at the sport of deer hunting.

There’s little doubt in my mind that the program would succeed in taking hundreds of infected deer out of the wild herd in the heart of CWD country. The question is, how do you pay for such a program.

Mike Foy, a retired Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist, says the idea is not to kill all deer but to focus harvest in and around areas of known CWD infection.

“You want, if possible, to remove sick deer faster than they can spread the disease,” Foy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Especially around the margins of disease areas, it could help confine CWD.”

The pilot study idea has been endorsed by some powerful organizations, including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association.

Foy said no funding options have been ruled out thus far, including donations from hunting industry companies or wealthy individuals. He said it could also be publicly funded through general tax revenues.

Personally, I dislike the idea of using tax dollars on a project that farmers and hunters should be actively engaged in anyway, and that is locating and shooting as many diseased deer as possible.

But apparently that isn’t happening at an effective pace without some sort of incentive, and the CWD infection rate is rising because we aren’t shooting enough infected deer.

So why is this being treated as such a crisis?

Among samples submitted statewide in 2018, there were 1,019 CWD-positive deer detected from the 16,735 tested, or 6 percent.

According to the DNR, the area of Iowa, Dane, Richland and Sauk counties likely has more CWD-positive deer in it than any state or province has had in the history of the disease.

CWD has spread into the wild deer herd in more than 20 counties, both human-assisted and by natural animal movement.

I’m still wondering where the organizers came up with a range of payment between $750 and $1,250 per positive deer. That’s a lot of money for not a lot of work if you live in one of the worst areas of CWD prevalence.

I can see it now, farmers leasing their land a day at a time to opportunistic hunters who want to play the CWD lottery, looking for that $1,250 positive deer.

And maybe some of them will just open up their land to hunters, seeing they get a check for every positive deer taken from their land.

If the pilot project is proposed to cost between $900,000 and $1.4 million, what will the price tag be when we engage this program in whole counties?

The good news is that hunters would be shooting every skinny, rough-looking deer they come across just hoping that it is infected. And that would make the project effective, because most hunters aren’t purposely shooting sick-looking deer without some incentive.

You might remember that the DNR’s early attempts to eradicate the deer herd around Mount Horeb in the early CWD days nearly 17 years ago were not effective due to a lack of funding, manpower and landowner cooperation.

But then, they never tried to employ 700,000 gun- and bow-toting deer hunters to get the job done. And that’s why some of the state’s top conservation organizations are backing this program.

“Why wouldn’t people, including politicians, support a plan like this to protect the $1 billion deer hunting industry in the state?” Foy said.

Such a project could be good for the wild deer herd and for the economy, providing some added income while slowing the spread of CWD statewide.

The one thing this plan promises to do is take a lack of manpower and landowners cooperation out of the equation. But the funding issues are no small matter, and I’d bet a lot of people will balk at paying $750 per positive deer to the hunter and landowner.

The advisory question for the spring fish and game hearings reads like this: “Do you favor conducting a pilot CWD Payment for Positive program to test if CWD testing rates and removal of CWD-positive deer can be increased from infected areas?”

Keep in mind that even if they come up with the money for the pilot project, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll find funding for more than the first 500 deer.

Their chances would be enhanced significantly if they can find some private or corporate funding to augment some tax dollars. 

And what is the necessary financial incentive for the hunter and landowner? Wouldn’t $300 or $500 per positive deer do the trick?