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Chronic wasting disease in a white-tailed deer spurs new worries
Posted by Elizabeth Shaw | The Flint Journal September 03, 2008 23:24PM
Journal News Service filesThree deer and a fawn eat at a feed pile in this file photo.

Could one sick deer end up costing millions in lost revenue for Michigan tourism, hunting and agriculture?

Some worry that could be the collateral damage from emergency measures enacted by the state Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture last week to handle the state's first case of chronic wasting disease in a white-tailed deer.

CWD was confirmed Aug. 25 in a 3-year-old doe culled on a privately owned cervid facility, or POC, in Kent County in the western Lower Peninsula.

Within hours, the DNR put into action the state's Surveillance and Response Plan for CWD, which includes an immediate ban on all baiting and feeding of deer and elk in the Lower Peninsula, the quarantine of all POC facilities in the state and a statewide prohibition on the transport of live wild deer, elk and moose.

The plan -- which also includes such measures as increased testing and mandatory deer checks for hunters in the area surrounding the confirmed CWD case -- is intended to track the disease and control any potential spread.
To learn more about CWD
State of Michigan Emerging Diseases Web site

"We put this plan together in 2002 so we'd be prepared to act rapidly, and that game plan calls for all these things we've done," said DNR veterinarian Steve Schmitt. "A hunter who's worried he's not going to be able to bait this year -- well, that's short-sighted. We're looking down the road 30 or more years and want a healthy white-tailed deer population when we get there.

"If we can nip it in the bud and handle it now when it's a much smaller problem, it makes sense. That's exactly what we're trying to do."

CWD is a fatal neurological disease that causes the infected animal to literally waste away. There is no evidence the disease can be transmitted to humans. It can spread to other deer, elk and moose through saliva and other fluids. Soil contaminated by the feces of infected animals can remain a source of infection for years.

Most cases of CWD have occurred in the American West but in the past several years, it has spread to some Eastern and Midwestern states, including Wisconsin.
Related content To report illegal bait piles MDNR Reporting All Poaching Hotline (800) 292-7800.

• To report a deer displaying symptoms of chronic wasting disease: MDNR Wildlife Lab (517) 336-5030.

What the bait ban means

• Banned: All grains, minerals, salt, fruits, vegetables, hay or any other food materials, natural or manufactured, which may lure, entice or attract deer.

• Allowed: Food plots. Foods found scattered solely as the result of normal agricultural planting or harvesting practices. Foods available to deer through normal livestock feeding if the area is occupied by livestock actively consuming the feed on a daily basis. Standing farm crops.

• Where: entire Lower Peninsula.

• No bear baiting with food materials other than meats, meat products, fish, fish products, or bakery products will be allowed in the Lower Peninsula at any time.

Kill tag replacement

• New DNR order for hunters in the CWD Surveillance Zone:
Replacement kill tags will be issued to hunters who take a deer within the Chronic Wasting Disease surveillance zone in Kent County if the deer they harvest appears to have a physical condition consistent with CWD.
In order to receive a replacement kill tag, the entire carcass must be collected by the DNR for CWD testing, similar to current policies for carcasses collected for bovine tuberculosis testing.
Hunters can retain the antlers or antlers attached to a skull cap cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue from the surrendered animal.

Officials don't yet know how the Kent County deer became infected. All POCS are licensed and regulated by the state, with mandatory disease testing on all culled or sick deer. DNR audits of the facility in 2004 and 2007 showed no reported escapes of animals or regulatory violations.

Right now there's no cause for alarm about Michigan's wild deer herd, Schmitt said. No CWD has been detected in 248 wild deer tested in Kent County since 2002.

"There's been no evidence of the disease in almost 22,000 wild deer, 1,600 elk and 50 moose we've tested over the past several years," Schmitt said. "The main thing right now is to do surveillance around the state and particularly in Kent County, and to stop the ways that would increase the possibility of spread."

But some worry the safety measures could have far-reaching economic and social impacts out of proportion to the current CWD risk.

Michigan has more than 500 cervid breeding facilities and game ranches. Until the quarantine is lifted, game ranches won't be allowed to bring in deer raised at breeding facilities, and no animals alive or dead can be removed.

"I think the state acted too swiftly and not correctly (by) putting a quarantine on all game ranches simply because of one isolated case at one small ranch. This puts a black cloud on everyone else," said Dede Anderson, a Fenton hunter whose Outdoor Adventures for Women sponsors organized trophy hunts. "Someone not fond of hunting could use this as a way to draw attention ... and those negative impressions don't disappear as fast as they spread."

Anderson said she's been in constant contact with the Traverse City-area game ranch where she has hunts scheduled the last two weekends of September and throughout October.

"They've been flooded with phone calls and inquiries. They told me it's not going to affect us at all at this point because they don't have to transport any animals," said Anderson, who said she's been reassured that her hunters will still be able to take home hides and antlers. "We already have half a dozen people signed up and are anticipating up to 20, with a couple coming from out of state."

Safari Club International officials are hoping the state will act swiftly to resolve the crisis and lift the bans.

"I would hope the DNR would be prudent in its decison-making and not overreact and give game ranches a bad name in general," said Mark Somers, president of the Flint chapter of SCI. "Game ranches are very popular in Michigan and they generate a lot of income for the state. Besides being trophy ranches, these facilities also provide hunting possibilities for many youth and (hunters with disabilities) whom otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity."

Somers said the bait ban could discourage some people from hunting this year, especially those who hunt on state land where there's more hunting competition. It could also hurt farmers who raise the carrots, sugar beets and other crops used for bait, as well as the stores that sell it.

"It's going to have a multimillion-dollar effect on the game ranches and agriculture industry unless they make a decision right away about the timeline and divulge some more information," said Somers.

Local DNR law enforcement officer Sgt. Tom Wanless said his six officers will be stepping up both ground and air patrols in Genesee, Lapeer and Oakland counties in coordination with the rest of the state.

"Natural food plots are still OK. But to go out and buy a bag of apples to pile under an oak tree somewhere, that is illegal," said Wanless. "We'll be increasing our general patrol of state lands, and we encourage people to report illegal bait piles on private land."

It's unlawful to bait prior to Oct. 1 anyway, Wanless said.

Violators of the bait ban would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days and $500 in fines, and could lose their hunting privileges.

"We realize it's a big industry for the farmers and helps their bottom line. But at the same time, we've got to drive home the fact that baiting increases the chances of spreading disease."

Conservation officers will also keep an eye on local POCs for violations of the transport ban, which is a felony punishable by up to $50,000 and five years in jail.

The bottom line: CWD is only the latest disease threat in a year that has already seen bovine tuberculosis in deer, pseudorabies in wild hogs, West Nile virus in birds and a rabies boom in bats and other wildlife.

"There are more emerging diseases involving wildlife today, and wildlife management is more of a challenge than it was 30 years ago because of it," Schmitt said. "It has to do with more humans crowding wildlife into smaller areas and closer to livestock and domestic pets, and moving animals not just around us but around the world.

"It just makes sense to assist us with this and go along with the quarantines while we ... figure out where it is and where it isn't so we can get rid of it as soon as possible," Schmitt said. "That's the game plan."
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