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Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010

Health Care for the Herd

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At a time when Republicans are once again vowing to kill health care for human beings, great strides are being made in improving health care for all those deer Wisconsin hunters are going out to blow away this week.

Concern for deer health has always been a major concern of the state’s 600,000 deer hunters.

It breaks a hunter’s heart to imagine a deer’s family watching helplessly as a proud buck wastes away from a lingering, debilitating disease. The noble deer deserves to die a dignified, natural death by being riddled with bullets.

That is why hunters and state wildlife officials are so excited about a new deer vaccine being developed in Canada that aims to prevent chronic wasting disease.

UW-Madison scientists waste their time doing embryonic stem cell research in hopes of saving millions of lives, repairing spinal cord injuries and curing diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other devastating human illnesses. No wonder many Republicans are eager to run such good-for-nothing research out of the state.

Canadian researchers, on the other hand, devote themselves to important medical issues that could be of enormous benefit to Wisconsin—namely, how to protect the health of wild deer so there will be more of them around for hunters to shoot every November.

Last month researchers (and marketers) from the University of Saskatchewan met with Wisconsin wildlife officials to discuss a breakthrough in developing a vaccine to be administered to deer to prevent chronic wasting disease.

“The best-case scenario,” a spokesman said, “is that, after they are vaccinated, animals won’t be affected by the disease at all. We’re also looking to see if the vaccine can help reduce shedding in diseased animals.”

The latter possibility is a huge bonus. It’s heart-rending when a hunter finally gets the opportunity of a lifetime to hack off the head of a magnificent 12-point buck and it turns out to be bald.

Of course, there are still a few logistical problems to be worked out in delivering shots to the state’s deer herd. An obvious one is the problem deer hunters already have in administering shots to deer in their traditional way.

First, you have to find the damn deer.

Even if the new vaccine is offered at nominal cost, very few deer are expected to responsibly line up at Walgreens.

Deer clearly have trust issues. Over the years, deer have gone out of their way to thwart the fine work of deer hunters, who are the state’s leading conservationists working to assure a healthy deer population by killing as many as they possibly can.

Deer should be appreciative of deer hunters for thinning the herd so survivors will have enough to eat during those long Wisconsin winters. But those ingrates never once get up off of the ground and say, “Thanks.”

Deer First and Foremost

Now deer hunters are talking about providing better health care for deer than many human beings are willing to make available to their own species.

Since deer are determined to sneak around to avoid getting their shots, researchers are in the process of developing an oral version of the vaccine that could be slipped into food or salt licks.

If the strategy works to create a healthy, robust deer herd, sometime in the future we might even consider setting out some food and salt licks for human beings who are wasting away.

But first things first. Right now many hunters are frustrated in their desire to do their part to control Wisconsin’s deer population because of a serious shortage of deer to control.

What makes the declining number of deer being shot in Wisconsin even more shocking is that it is occurring at the same time the number of hunters also is in decline.

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress estimates that for every 100 hunters who move on to start shooting up their happy hunting ground, only 50 young hunters replace them.

Out of desperation a year ago, the Legislature lowered the hunting age to 10 to try to get more children interested in blowing away animals instead of petting them. The only thing left is to start arming toddlers.

When there are fewer hunters, it should be easier for every hunter to get a deer, right? But, sadly, far too many deer hunters still return from the woods without a single dead carcass to prove their manhood.

Wisconsin pays some of the highest rates for health care in the nation. We simply have to make it a priority to field herds of big, healthy targets for deer hunters.

If vaccinating deer doesn’t multiply the number of hunting opportunities, the only alternative may be Stephen King’s Pet Sematary option.

We might have to start performing emergency surgery on deer after they are shot so we can send them back out to be shot again and again.