Wisconsin and Minnesota deer farms received more than $500,000 in bailouts for CWD testing.
U.S. Department of Agriculture records have revealed $512,000 in buyouts given to Minnesota and Wisconsin deer farmers from 2017-2019 for herd depopulating and CWD testing purposes.
The bombshell report by the Star Tribune says they obtained the data on these taxpayer-funded buyouts through a Freedom of Information Act request. While they were able to get figures on how much money was paid out, the USDA would not disclose a full list of farms who received buyouts due to privacy laws. They provided just one of 114 pages of documents through the FOIA request.
The paper was able to identify some buyouts, including one of $4,472 to the city of Winona for three captive animals in a city park.
The paper reports the buyouts were given to farmers to reimburse them for destroying and testing their captive herds due to CWD concerns. Farmers received a maximum payout of $3,000 per animal under the USDA's CWD buyout program. Animals are reportedly assessed and appraised individually based on pedigree and antler size. Under the program, $93,616 went to Minnesota in 2017. That was followed up by $20,195 in 2018 and $128,926 in 2019. Wisconsin received buyouts in 2018 and 2019 totaling an additional $270,115.
CWD is an always-fatal neurological disorder that affects the brain of deer and other cervids like elk and moose. It's caused by a prion that spreads easily through close contact by infected animals and the prion can linger in the soil for years afterward, infecting other animals.
Under the terms of the buyouts, farmers were required to destroy organic matter from deer pens via burning and to disinfect all equipment. Farmers were also required to build fences to keep wild deer away from the infected areas.
The Star Tribune did also identify one farmer who received payouts. Bruce Hoseck's Winona, Minnesota farm tested positive for the disease in 2017. He was compensated for his seven remaining animals, which all subsequently tested positive for the disease. The three animals from the Winona City Park all came from Hoseck's farm.
"I was satisfied with what they offered," Hoseck told the paper. "There were no negotiations."
Hoseck declined to disclose how much money he got from the program, but it's worth noting that the Minnesota Department of Resources said the farm may have spread the disease to wild animals outside the fence. There were reports in the past of deer allegedly escaping Hoseck's facility.
The news that taxpayers helped fund problem deer farm buyouts isn't sitting well with hunters. The Whitetail Blufflands Association believes the work of eliminating contaminated herds is important, but they question the operations being taxpayer-funded.
"Where's the deer farmer's contribution?" spokesman John Zanmiller told the Star Tribune. "The buyouts promote the idea of private wealth at public expense."
It will be interesting to see how other hunting organizations respond to this news. The Star Tribune additionally reports the USDA had $1.3 million in the budget for the CWD program in 2019. A large payment was given to a farm in Minnesota's Crow County last year when the herd was found to have CWD-infected animals. Of the 89 deer killed by sharpshooters, seven were CWD-positive. The paper estimates the average payment per animal was likely $1,432 in 2019.
They also report that at least two farms have already been given similar buyouts this year.