Wednesday, September 28th, 2022
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MADISON — Laurie Seale has spent the last three decades raising white-tailed deer on her Maple Hill Farms in Taylor County. She lost it all in the span of a few days by order of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

But emails obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight suggest it didn’t have to be this way. It’s just the latest example of bureaucratic incompetence — and perhaps political retribution — in the very political Evers administration

Late last month, state Ag officials euthanized Seale’s herd of 301 deer in an effort to check the dreaded chronic wasting disease  that had been detected in a single deer nearly a year ago.

The depopulation at the northern Wisconsin farm near Gilman reportedly is the largest such effort in the history of the state’s captive cervid industry. It was absolutely devastating for Seale and her crew, forced to stand back and watch as their beloved whitetails — many of them healthy — succumbed to the potassium chloride injected into their chest cavities.

“Some of my animals didn’t die quickly. Some fought back,” Seale recalled.

After the agents euthanized the bucks and does, they came back a couple days later to finish off the orphaned fawns. Seale said she was haunted by the doleful sounds of her fawns crying out for their mothers before they too were put down. She posted a video documenting one incident.


In late August 2021, a 6-year-old doe from the farm tested positive for CWD. It was a shock to Seale and her team. By all accounts, Maple Hill Farms has gone above and beyond in its efforts to keep CWD out. Since 2015, Seale has kept a closed herd on her doubled-fenced, 40-acre farm. Taylor County was, up until then, believed to be CWD-free. Half of her herd was bred to be CWD-resistant. She said state epidemiologists were uncertain how CWD entered the herd.

That one positive test proved to be a death sentence.

CWD is a horrifying neurological disease affecting cervids (deer, elk and moose). It’s always fatal and generally contagious. It has been detected in at least 23 states, two Canadian provinces, and South Korea, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. CWD is not known to infect livestock or humans.

Wildlife managers have implemented aggressive, sometimes sweeping, actions to deal with CWD. Cases continue to grow annually in Wisconsin.

Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection agents quickly ordered Maple Hill Farms into quarantine. Seale was prohibited from selling her award-winning giant bucks to the private hunting ranches she’s done business with for years. State agents tracked Maple Hill Farms’ shipment of deer — 387 to some 40 facilities in Wisconsin and six other states over the past six years.

While DATCP quickly issued its quarantine order, it moved at a glacial pace thereafter. In the meantime, the chronic wasting disease spread to the farm’s two-year-old bucks.

Early on, Seale proposed a plan allowing her to sell the bucks to CWD-positive shooting reserves. State Veterinarian Darlene Konkle liked the idea.

“Animal Health would like to grant permission to two of the CWD positive farms (Seale and Van Ooyen) to move bucks from their farms to a CWD positive ranch (likely Animal Creek Whitetails) for harvest and testing,” Konkle wrote to Department of Ag officials, including DATCP Secretary Randy Romanksi, in a Sept. 21, 2021 email. Seale obtained the documents through one of many open records requests she has filed with the Evers administration. She says she has been waiting six months or more for the administration to fill other records requests.

Van Ooyen Whitetails, a hunting ranch in Antigo, ultimately had its herd of about 50 deer eliminated after one of its animals tested positive for CWD.

Konkle said Seale’s proposal was less complicated than another previously implemented and there were fewer animals involved. More so, all of the exposed bucks at Maple Hill Farms would be killed and tested within 60 days, Konkle wrote.

Romanski wrote back a few days later that he had not connected with the local tribal chairperson, but would keep Konkle posted. The emails don’t make clear why tribal leaders would be involved.

The veterinarian’s recommendation ultimately was overridden by higher ups in Gov. Tony Evers’ administration.

“It would have been a win for everyone,” Seale said. “It would have saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars … and the animals would have been off the land before” CWD spread.

’Living hell’ 

A federal fund provides for payments of up to $3,000 per animal destroyed. Wisconsin currently has 301 registered deer farms with 38 considered CWD-positive, Outdoor Life reported. Twenty of those 38 farms have been depopulated with indemnity paid to the owners.

As the state department dragged its feet, the disease spread and the unpaid bills mounted for Seale.

In total, Seale said 15 of her whitetails tested positive for CWD. She says she’s sustained about $200,000 in losses. The farm will receive pennies on the dollars and will have to pay tax on the federal fund payments when it’s all said and done, Seale said.

“They were beautiful animals, and they should have been off the landscape last fall,” she said. “I could have exited the industry with dignity, for me and my animals. They didn’t have to kill them all.”

At one point, Department of Ag officials proposed bringing in sharp-shooters to eliminate the deer in their pens, but that plan was dismissed.

DATCP officials did not return requests for comment. Konkle, the state veterinarian, was out of the office and could not be reached for comment. Why the department delayed and ultimately pursued the plan it did remains unclear.

Seale said there’s definitely politics involved. She said when she reached out to Evers’ office for help she was told that there was nothing the governor, a Democrat, could do because it was an election year.

“I am a Republican, a strong conservative, and I’m not afraid to post my beliefs on Facebook,” she said. “I’ve been a very vocal advocate for the industry ever since CWD hit the industry in 2002. I’m a voice they want to get rid of.”

Instead, Seale said, the bureaucrats ‘unleashed a lion.” She said she will take the Evers administration to court.

“I will stop at nothing,” she said. “I have been put through a year of living hell because of the Department of Agriculture.”

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