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From: TSS (
Subject: The Economic Impacts of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Wisconsin
Date: September 12, 2004 at 8:16 am PST

In Reply to: Fire in the Sistine Chapel: How Wisconsin Responded to Chronic Wasting Disease posted by TSS on September 12, 2004 at 8:12 am:

Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 9:181 -192, 2004

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Inc.

ISSN: 1087-1209 print/ 1533-158X online DOI: 10.1080/10871200490479963

The Economic Impacts of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Wisconsin


Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, Wisconsin, USA

The major economic impacts of CWD have been on hunters rather than other sectors of the Wisconsin economy. This article shows that by using available data and plausible assumptions, hunter losses likely amounted to between $53 million and $79 million in 2002 and $45 million to $72 million in 2003. CWD has also likely caused deer hunters to spend less on their sport than they have in the past, but the net impact of reduced hunter spending on the Wisconsin economy as a whole probably did not total more than $5 million per year in 2002 and 2003. Losses in some rural areas, however, may have been substantial, but data are not available to estimate these losses. The State of Wisconsin absorbed costs of about $14.7 million in fiscal year 2002-2003. Data are not currently available to quantify losses to deer and elk farmers, feed dealers, and deer viewers.

Keywords chronic wasting disease, economic impacts, Wisconsin, hunting


In Wisconsin, chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first discovered in the south central part of the state in early 2002 (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2002). Herd reduction through liberalized hunting regulations has been the primary strategy for controlling the spread of the disease in the state (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2004a). In 2002, for example, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) initiated programs to attempt to eradicate deer in the area where the disease was discovered, drastically reduce the herd in adjacent areas, test deer harvested throughout the state, and restrict feeding and baiting of deer (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2003a). The 2002 testing program showed that the disease was restricted to four contiguous counties in southern Wisconsin (Wisconsin Depart­ment of Natural Resources, 2004a). Herd reduction, testing of deer mostly from the southern part of the state, and controls on baiting and feeding deer continued into 2003.

This article considers the potential economic effects of CWD in Wisconsin in 2002 (the first year after the disease was discovered) and in 2003. Because existing research does not directly and fully address these economic impacts either in Wisconsin or elsewhere (Seidl, Koontz, Bruch, & Elder, 2003), the ana­lysis in this article is more suggestive than definitive. Using theory and avail­able data, this article attempts to predict who in Wisconsin has been or is being affected by CWD and to assess the potential magnitudes of hunting-related impacts.

The economics of CWD is driven by uncertainty. The public, for example, is concerned about the human health effects of consuming venison that may be tainted with CWD (Petchenik, 2003). Public health officials have stated that there is no known link between CWD and human illness (Seidl, Koontz, Elder, & Bruch, 2003; Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, 2004; World Health Organization, 2000). Although the State of Wisconsin is treating CWD as a wildlife health problem (not a human health problem), officials are quick to point out that they cannot be absolutely certain that it is safe to eat venison from an infected animal, or that current tests are adequate to identify all infected animals (Kazmierczak, 2004). Statewide testing, which showed that CWD is restricted to the south central part of Wisconsin, reduced uncertainty among hunters, but much is still unknown. New research findings confirming human health risks or effects of CWD on the health of domestic animals could greatly increase the adverse economic effects beyond those discussed here. In the long run, if the disease spreads over large areas of the state, the economic impacts may substantially increase. Some research (Gross & Miller, 2001) indicates that CWD has the potential to decimate deer herds. Should this happen in Wisconsin, large adverse impacts could follow. The biological science, however, is very uncertain and the prediction that free-ranging populations might be severely reduced is debatable (Shauber & Woolf, 2003).

The next section of the article presents an overview of the potential eco­nomic impacts of CWD in Wisconsin. It shows that these impacts depend on how hunters have reacted. License data show that deer hunting in the state declined sharply after the discovery of CWD. Subsequent sections explore the economic implications of reduced hunter spending in the Wisconsin economy, the expenditures of state agencies in response to CWD, and the losses suffered by deer hunters.

An Overview of CWD Impacts in Wisconsin

Businesses (e.g., sporting goods stores) that cater to Wisconsin's more than 600,000 deer hunters have likely been adversely affected by hunters stopping deer hunting or reducing their hunting activity in response to CWD. These adverse effects are likely trickling down to households in the form of lost wages, profits, rents, and interest. Rural businesses that serve hunters are particularly vulnerable because hunting trips transfer dollars from urban to rural areas where economic opportunities are often limited.

The Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) stated recently that there are about 820 deer and elk farms in Wisconsin holding approximately 33,000 animals (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2004c). Meat, hides, velvet from antlers, live animals, and private hunting opportunities are supplied by these farms, but their profitability has likely suffered as a result of CWD. In response to the spread of CWD in captive deer and elk herds in North America, Korea has now banned antler velvet from the United States and Canada; other Asian markets may have been impacted as well. Anecdotal evidence suggests that adverse publicity about CWD has negatively affected the market for Wisconsin venison. The Wisconsin DATCP (2004) has adopted more stringent requirements for monitoring, testing, and other aspects of deer and elk farming, which has likely increased costs.

In Wisconsin, feed dealers claim that they have been hurt economically by restrictions on feeding and baiting deer. Public agencies that regulate hunting, as well as deer and elk farmers, have absorbed substantial costs to address CWD. In this article, these effects are treated as market and agency impacts. The analysis of market impacts will be limited in this article to CWD impacts related to deer hunting. Data are currently unavailable to understand the impacts on deer and elk farming, which could be substantial. The effects on feed dealers may not be large at this stage, but there is no evidence to confirm or reject this supposition.

Although businesses and agencies are affected by CWD, this article will argue that a large share of the economic losses associated with CWD in Wisconsin are being borne by the state's deer hunters. Because deer hunting opportunities are supplied by the state rather than through the market, these effects are referred to as non-market impacts.1 Non-market impacts may also include effects on deer viewing resulting from regulations on feeding deer and from herd reduc­tion. The economic losses from deer viewers are not examined due to the lack of data.

Market, agency, and non-market economic effects of CWD depend on how hunters have reacted to the discovery of the disease. The more hunters who decide not to hunt or are adversely affected in other ways, the larger the market and non-market impacts. This analysis, therefore, begins by considering how hunting participation in Wisconsin has been affected by CWD.

Judging the Decline in Deer Hunting Participation

Deer hunting license sales declined sharply in 2002 in Wisconsin compared to the years before CWD was detected in the state. The number of "unique deer hunters," as estimated by the DNR shows the decline in participation (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2004b). This measure accounts for hunters who purchased licenses for both gun and archery hunting. For this analysis, 2001 data (the year before CWD was discovered in Wisconsin) are used as the base-line. The number of unique deer hunters declined from 667,033 in 2001 to 600,869 in 2002, a decline of 66,164 (9.9%) in one year. Participation rebounded somewhat in 2003 to 627,601. This is an increase of 4.4% over 2002, but is still 5.9% below the 2001 level. Based on the number of licensed gun deer hunters, this was the lowest rate of participation since 1982 (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2003b).

Deer license sales had been growing slowly for many years prior to 2002, but were quite stable. >From 1992 and 2001, for example, the number of gun licenses sold ranged from 652,491 to 694,712 (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2003b), with a mean of 676,626 and a standard deviation of 12,890 (1.9% of the mean). During this 10-year period, the growth rate in license sales was less than 1% per year, but was statistically significant (p < .01). The most plausible reason for the larger declines in 2002 and 2003 is CWD. The partial recovery in license sales in 2003 is consistent with the view that the 2002 statewide testing program helped to mitigate the effects of CWD on hunting par­ticipation by reassuring hunters that the disease was limited to a few southern counties. For this article, the declines in hunting participation in Wisconsin of 9.9% in 2002 and 5.9% in 2003 (both in comparison to the 2001 baseline) are assumed to be a direct result of CWD in the state.

Hunting-Related Market Impacts

An estimated 596,000 people hunted deer in Wisconsin in 2001 and deer hunting was responsible for an estimated 7,052,000 hunter days in the state (U.S. Depart­ment of the Interior, 2003).2 Wisconsin hunters spent $298,919,000 on travel and equipment for big game hunting in 2001 (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2003). Given that 94% of all big game hunting days were spent hunting deer, it can be assumed that about 94% of the expenditures ($281 million) were related to deer hunting. This covers only equipment and travel, but deer hunters spend money on other things such as magazine subscriptions, membership dues and contributions, land leasing and ownership, licenses, stamps, tags, and permits. For Wisconsin, spending on all hunting items other than travel and hunting equipment amounted to an estimated $373 million in 2001 (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2003). Because deer hunting days amounted to 73% of all hunting days, it is assumed here that 73% of all hunting expenditures other than for equipment and travel were for deer hunting. This would amount to about $272 million. Therefore, total 2001 expenditures on deer hunting in Wisconsin for travel, hunting equipment, and other hunting-related items is estimated to be approximately $553 million ($281 million + $272 million), or approximately $829 per deer hunter.

To estimate the market impacts of CWD on deer hunting in Wisconsin in 2002, it can be assumed that in the absence of CWD, hunter expenditures would have been the same in 2002 as they were 2001. The decline in deer hunters of 9.9% (as estimated earlier) translates to a 9.9% decline in deer hunting expendi­tures. This implies a reduction in deer hunter expenditures in 2002 of 9.9% of $553 million or about $55 million. If in the absence of CWD, expenditures had continued to equal about $553 million in 2003 and the decline in hunting expen­ditures due to CWD matched the decline in participation of 5.9%, then the loss in hunter expenditures in 2003 was approximately $33 million.

It is assumed here that all deer hunters' expenditures occurred in Wisconsin. This is not likely to be completely true. Most magazine expenditures, for example, probably leave the state. This source of imprecision must go uncor-rected because of lack of available data.

It is possible that these estimated losses in hunter expenditures ($55 million in 2002, $33 million in 2003) are underestimates. Those who continued to hunt might have reduced the number of days that they hunted or otherwise modified their behavior in ways that would have led them to spend less. A survey of deer hunters after the 2002 season (Petchenik, 2003), however, did not find clear evidence that those who decided to hunt in 2002 reduced (or increased) the number of days they hunted compared to 2001.

In economic terms, reductions in deer hunting expenditures are changes in "final demand" for the products and services consumed by deer hunters. As these changes in final demand ripple through the economy, the incomes of Wisconsin households would have been affected. If a detailed breakdown of the sectors where deer hunters spent this money were available, the associated losses in household income could be estimated using a "household income multiplier" (Schaffer, 1999). Unfortunately, no such breakdown is available. A rough esti­mate is possible using IMPLAN, a standard tool for modeling economic impacts at state and regional levels (Minnesota IMPLAN Group Inc., 2004). Using the IMP-LAN model for Wisconsin, if it is assumed that hunters' expenditures were evenly divided between the miscellaneous retail trade sector and the hotel and motel sec­tor. Results indicate that if hunters spent their money in this fashion, each dollar in expenditures would result in about $0.75 in household income (S. C. Deller, per­sonal communication, March 30, 2004). The rest of each dollar would "leak" from the Wisconsin economy, as goods and services were purchased out of state. There­fore, the estimated reduction in hunter expenditures in 2002 ($55 million) might reasonably be expected to have caused a reduction in Wisconsin household incomes of around $41 million ($55 million* 0.75). The same calculation for 2003 would yield $25 million as an estimate of the loss in household incomes.

Having noted these losses, it is important to view them from a proper per­spective. First, as a share of the entire Wisconsin economy, these losses are miniscule. For example, in both 2002 and 2003, under the assumptions presented here, the annual per capita reductions in incomes due to the decrease in deer hunting expenditures were less than $10 per capita for Wisconsin's 5.4 million citizens.

Second, it is economically relevant that Wisconsin residents are responsible for a large share of deer hunting expenditures. Nonresidents only make up about 6% of those who hunt deer in Wisconsin (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2004b). When the 94% of hunters who are residents spent less on deer hunting in 2002 and 2003, they likely spent the money elsewhere within the state's economy. They might, for example, have spent more on other hunting or fishing activities or other forms of recreation within the state. The household income multiplier would have worked in a positive direction on the increases in final demand resulting from the shifted expenditures. Losses in household income from reduced deer hunting were likely more or less counterbalanced by increases in household income from spending money on other things. As a result, the net loss in household income for the state as a whole due to reduced resident spend­ing on deer hunting was probably not large.

On the other hand, when nonresident deer hunters did not come to Wisconsin to hunt because of CWD, the money that they did not spend in the state was likely a net loss to the Wisconsin economy. Although resident deer hunting license sales declined 9.5% from 2001 to 2002, nonresident deer license sales declined by more than 19% (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2004b). In 2003, the decline in nonresident deer hunting was 14% compared to 2001. Associated losses in nonresident spending would likely be money lost to Wisconsin's economy as nonresidents spent the money they saved on hunting expenses on other items, most likely outside Wisconsin.

The associated losses, however, were likely small in relative terms. Using the 2001 estimated total expenditures by deer hunters of $553 million as a base-line and assuming that nonresidents spent 6% of this total, nonresident expendi­tures would have amounted to $33 million. Assuming that nonresident spending would have stayed the same in 2002 and 2003 in the absence of CWD, the 19% decline in nonresident hunting in 2002 would imply reduced expenditures due to CWD of $6 million in that year (19% * $33 million). The 14.1% decline in non-resident hunting in 2003 would imply a $5 million loss in expenditures (14.1% * $33 million). Using an approximate multiplier of $0.75 in household income lost per dollar of lost expenditure, this translates into about $5 million in lost incomes in 2002 ($6 million * 0.75 rounding to the nearest million dollars) and $4 million in 2003. This is a small amount relative to Wisconsin's tourism eco­nomy, which is measured in billions of dollars. For example, travelers spent nearly $11.7 billion in Wisconsin in 2002 (Wisconsin Department of Tourism, 2003b).

There is one caveat for these conclusions. Adverse impacts of reduced spending by both resident and nonresident deer hunters would not be spread evenly throughout Wisconsin. Urban deer hunters spend money at businesses in rural areas such as hotels and motels, eating and drinking establishments, deer processing facilities, food and beverage stores, and gas stations. Some rural households, with limited economic opportunities in their home areas, are depend­ent on such expenditures. When fewer people hunted in 2002 and 2003, some rural households likely saw their incomes substantially fall. Unfortunately, data are not available to estimate the share of market losses in rural areas.

Economic Impacts on the DNR and Other Agencies

Reduced license sales resulted in reduced revenues for the DNR. Separate estimates of these losses are not offered because expenditures on licenses have already been accounted for as part of reduced deer hunter expenditures. The State of Wisconsin, however, spent about $14.7 million in the 2002-2003 fiscal year combating CWD (State of Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, 2003). About $12.6 million of this was spent by the DNR with this money coming, in part, from the license fees and a special appropriation from the legislature. The rest of the money was spent by other state agencies, most notably the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Because of less extensive testing in 2003, these costs may have declined somewhat during the 2003-2004 fiscal year, but estimates are not available.3

Losses to Hunters

To account for the full economic effects of CWD, natural resource economists would argue that researchers should look beyond market and agency losses. Recreational activities such as deer hunting have value to recreationists and this can be measured economically (Freeman, 1993; Herriges & Kling, 1999). Deer hunting is important to Wisconsin's citizens and concern that venison may be tainted has likely reduced the value of the sport to deer hunters. The question is, how much?

As a starting point, think about the "price" of deer hunting. A Wisconsin resident can currently purchase a gun deer license for $20. Although this could be considered the "price" of an entire season of deer hunting, Wisconsin's deer hunters each spent, on average, slightly more than $800 in 2001 to participate in the sport. From this perspective, the "price" of a season of deer hunting is approximately $800. However, $800 per hunter per year is the cost of deer hunt­ing, not its value. On average, each deer hunter must place a value of at least $800 on a season of deer hunting or they would not continue to spend that much. Economists reason that many hunters have a value greater than the $800 per year that they spent (Freeman, 2003). If hunters only received $800 worth of pleasure per year from deer hunting, they would only just "break even." Economists refer to any extra value as "consumer surplus" or "surplus value" (Bishop, 2002). Surplus value is the maximum amount that hunters would be willing to pay for the hunting opportunity over and above what it costs them. This is a widely accepted principle of resource economics (Freeman, 2003; Hanley, Shogren, & White, 1997; Herriges & Kling, 1999; Mitchell & Carson, 1989).

There is, however, no study on the surplus value of deer hunting in Wisconsin suitable for directly analyzing the losses to hunters from CWD. Research specifically tailored to deal with a valuation problem of this sort can be expen­sive and time consuming. In such situations, economists often seek values for comparable recreational opportunities, a practice known as "benefits transfer" (Rosenberger & Loomis, 2003). Bishop and Heberlein (1990) found that the sur­plus value per day of deer hunting in a special hunt in Wisconsin was about $40. This is consistent with results from a survey of recreational valuation studies (Rosenberger & Loomis, 2001), which examined 35 studies of big game hunting in North America and found 177 estimates of the surplus value (many studies contained more than one value estimate). The mean surplus value across these studies was $43.17 per hunting day (standard error of the mean = $2.21). The median value was $37.30. Thus, a value of $40 is used here as a crude estimate of the value per deer hunting day.

As noted earlier, Wisconsin's deer hunters recorded about 7 million days of hunting in 2001. At $40 per day, the annual surplus value from deer hunting in the state is approximately $280 million under pre-CWD conditions. $280 million per year is a rough estimate of the losses of the state's deer hunters if the herd was decimated by CWD. Fortunately, the situation is not this dire at present.

Beginning with the 2002 hunting season, two kinds of losses can be expected in Wisconsin as a result of CWD. First, the reduction in hunting parti­cipation led to a decrease in the total number of deer hunting days compared to baseline conditions. Second, for those who continued to hunt in 2002 and 2003, the quality of the deer hunting experience seems likely to have declined, with negative implications for the value per day. Despite the lack of a proven link between CWD and human illness, research has shown that slightly more than a third of Wisconsin deer hunters were concerned about the risk of becoming ill from CWD (Petchenik, 2003). In addition, 36% of those living in the counties where CWD was known to exist and 25% of those living in other counties stated that they would have concerns about eating meat from a deer that had not been tested for the disease. Such widespread concerns are likely to detract from the enjoyment of the deer hunt and its value. As about 9.9% of deer hunters did not hunt in 2002 and 5.9% did not hunt deer in 2003, social and family relationships surrounding the hunt are likely to have been disrupted, further reducing the quality of the hunt (Heberlein, 2004).

Another sign of reduced quality was an apparent reduction in the deer harvest in 2002. The 2002 deer harvest was 372,021 (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2003b). This is 16% less than in 2001, 40% less than in 2000 (a record year), and 20% less than the average over the 5 years from 1997 to 2001. It is possible that hunters felt less certain about harvesting deer compared to before the discovery of CWD in Wisconsin. Preliminary results indicate that the harvest rebounded to normal levels in 2003 (Wisconsin Department of Nat­ural Resources, 2004d). This likely reflects liberal hunting regulations and increased hunter confidence following the statewide CWD testing program.

If it is assumed that the 9.9% decline in deer hunting participation in 2002 directly resulted in a 9.9% decline in deer hunting days during the year, then there was a decline of roughly 700,000 hunter days. These lost days would be worth approximately $28 million (700,000 * $40). If the value of the remaining 6.4 million hunting days declined 10% to 20% due to reduced hunting quality (i.e., a loss in value of $4 to $8 per hunter day), then the value of the loss in hunt­ing quality would amount to an additional $25 million to $51 million (after rounding; 6.4 million * $4 and 6.4 million * $8, respectively). Adding the value of the lost days to the range of values for lost quality implies a total loss in value to Wisconsin deer hunters of between $53 million and $79 million in 2002 (after rounding). Following the same logic and assumptions, the 5.9% reduction in hunting participation in 2003 would imply a decline of 416,000 hunter days worth approximately $17 million. Reduced quality of the remaining 6.6 million hunter days would be worth between $26 million and $53 million. Adding the value of lost days and lost quality would make total losses to deer hunters in 2003 of between $45 million to $72 million.


The largest market and agency costs identified here fell on the Wisconsin Depart­ment of Natural Resources as it struggles to deal with the CWD problem. These costs amounted to $12.6 million in fiscal year 2002-2003. Agency costs will likely be somewhat less in fiscal year 2003-2004, but will still amount to several millions of dollars. In the private sector, some losses amounting to a few million dollars have been incurred due to reduced tourist revenues from nonresident deer hunters. However, from the point of view of the state as a whole, lost spending by resident deer hunters was more or less counterbalanced as those hunters spent money in other sectors within the state. Although losses to deer and elk farms and to feed dealers remain unaccounted for, these are not large sectors of the state's economy.

The non-market losses were much larger. Under plausible assumptions, losses borne by hunters amounted to roughly $60 million per year in both 2002 and 2003, or about $90 per deer hunter per year. This is a 20% decline in the annual surplus value of deer-hunting in the state.

The analysis here was based on the best available data combined with rea­sonable assumptions to fill the gaps. Although it yielded insights about who has been affected and to what extent, the results are obviously imprecise. Further­more, losses to deer and elk farms, feed dealers, and deer viewers could not be quantified. Additional research is needed to refine the understanding of the eco­nomic impacts of CWD in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

If the disease can be eliminated or contained in a small part of the state and inexpensive and reliable CWD tests can be devised so that hunters can be confi­dent that the venison they and others consume is not from infected animals, the market and non-market damages will remain at low to moderate levels. If the area where CWD is present expands as it has in other states (e.g., Colorado, Wyoming) then other things being equal, the losses will likely increase. If con­suming venison from CWD-infected deer is linked to human health risks, much larger losses, possibly in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, could result. Large losses could also be sustained if CWD is found to affect the health of livestock or other domesticated animals. In addition, large losses in the hund­reds of millions of dollars per year would occur if the disease decimates the Wisconsin deer herd. Wise, well thought out, and cost-effective public policies to address the problem based on the best science available are economically justified.


1. This can lead to confusion because hunters do spend money in the marketplace for
items such as equipment, food, lodging, and access to land for hunting. The point is that
almost all deer hunting is controlled by the state, which determines where, when, how, and
under what conditions deer may be harvested. This degree of control implies that deer
hunting is a non-market good.

2. This number is substantially less than the number of licenses sold. Sampling error
aside, most of the difference is probably attributable to the fact that not everyone who
buys a license actually hunts. A survey of those buying a Wisconsin license in 2000, for
example, showed that only 82% actually hunted (Wisconsin Department of Tourism,

3. Money from federal sources has also been allocated to Wisconsin for CWD, but
this amount is unclear.


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Research was supported by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The author is grateful for help at several points from Thomas A. Heberlein and from various personnel at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource, especially Jordan Petchenik. The editor of this journal and two anonymous reviewers provided additional helpful comments, which are gratefully acknowledged. All errors are the sole responsibility of the author.

Address correspondence to Richard C. Bishop, Department of Agricultural and Applied Eco­nomics, Taylor Hall, 427 Lorch Street, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA. E-mail:


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