By KEVIN WALKER
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reported that a deer taken by a young hunter during the youth deer hunting season was infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD).
The 3-year-old female deer, taken in September, is the 10th free-ranging deer in Michigan to have CWD, a contagious neurological disease affecting whitetail deer, mule deer, moose and elk. It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and, ultimately, death.
The deer was taken in Montcalm Township in Montcalm County, in the central part of the Lower Peninsula (L.P.). According to the DNR, tests performed at the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory indicated last week the animal is positive for CWD.
The youth hunter voluntarily took the animal to a DNR deer check station and submitted it for testing. “We cannot thank this family enough for bringing their deer to a check station,” said Kelly Straka, DNR state wildlife veterinarian.
“Without their effort, the disease may have gone undetected in this area. We encourage hunters from any part of the state, especially the south-central Lower Peninsula, to have their deer tested.”
According to the Oct. 2 statement from DNR, some CWD-infected animals will display abnormal behaviors, have progressive weight loss and physical debilitation. However, deer can be infected for many years without showing internal or external symptoms.
There is no cure for CWD. Once an animal is infected, it will die. It’s not believed that humans can be infected with CWD, but as a precaution officials recommend humans not consume the products of CWD-infected animals.
As a result of this CWD find, the DNR’s proposed recommendations include creation of a nine-township Core Area that would include Douglass, Eureka, Fairplain, Maple Valley, Montcalm, Pine and Sidney townships in Montcalm County, as well as Oakfield and Spencer townships in Kent County. Among other requirements in this zone, there will be mandatory registration of deer within 72 hours of harvest, starting Nov. 15.
The DNR will also recommend a ban on the feeding and baiting of deer in Kent and Montcalm counties effective Jan. 2, 2018, and encourage hunters not to bait in these areas immediately.
The baiting and feeding of deer is considered to be a risk factor for transmission of CWD, since it can bring infected and uninfected deer into one place and expose uninfected animals either to infected animals or materials.
“The find bolsters our understanding of where the disease exists,” said Chad Stewart, a DNR deer specialist. “If we find positive animals east of Lansing, it doesn’t change anything. We already have special areas set up where we’ve found it before. If it’s found in a new area, like Montcalm County, it’s a lot more work.
“We’re going to implement special emergency procedures that are not in the brochures, for the new Core Area.”
In 2011 the DNR lifted a deer baiting ban in most of Michigan’s L.P. The Upper Peninsula has always been CWD-free. A statewide ban had been in effect since 2008 after cases of CWD were reported in Michigan deer.
Hunters were adamantly opposed to the ban. So were some farmers, especially those who had been selling cull carrots, beets and apples to hunters for deer bait. More information about the current situation is available at www.michigan.gov/cwd