MADISON, Wis. — State wildlife officials plan to launch a five-year study next month that they say should provide unprecedented data on how predators, chronic wasting disease and other factors affect deer survival in southwestern Wisconsin.

The Department of Natural Resources will begin start the $3 million effort by capturing and placing radio collars on deer predators, such as bobcats and coyotes, in Dane, Iowa and Grant counties in October. The agency will start capturing and collaring deer in January.

The collars will be equipped with GPS tracking devices that will record and display information on the animals multiple times per day. Plans call for capturing and collaring 200 adult deer, including bucks and does, 100 fawns and 60 predators annually. The agency plans to use staff and trappers to capture and collar predators and hire between 15 to 20 field technicians to capture and collar deer, DNR big-game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang said.

The study should result in unprecedented information on movement, behavior, habitat use and predator-prey survival, DNR Wildlife and Forestry Research Section Chief Scott Hull wrote in a memo to the agency’s board.

The study will take place in two areas: One spans the Grant and Iowa county line with low CWD-infection rates, and the other will span a portion of the Iowa and Dane county line where CWD infection rates are high. Running the study in both areas will help DNR scientists better understand how the disease may be interacting with predators and other environmental factors to affect deer survival, Hull wrote.

Chronic wasting disease affects deer’s brains, causing them to grow thin, act strangely and ultimately die. It was first found in Wisconsin in 2002 near Mount Horeb. The DNR initially attempted to contain the disease by eradicating as many deer as possible, a plan generated intense public backlash and led to the agency ultimately backing off on eradication.

The DNR’s current strategy calls for reducing local herds in isolated areas of infect that appear far from known disease clusters but centers mostly on simply monitoring the disease’s spread.

The disease has moved beyond southwestern Wisconsin into 41 of the state’s 72 counties. Test results released in March show 9.4 percent of the 3,133 deer tested last year were infected, the highest prevalence rate since the disease’s discovery in the state.

The study is part of a series of initiatives Gov. Scott Walker announced in May to bolster CWD surveillance and better understand the disease. The governor called for more studies on deer populations, research investments, a best practices plan for captive deer farms and biannual deer farm fence inspections.

The money for the study will come from federal Pittman-Robertson grants, which are funded through federal sales taxes on guns and ammunition.


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1