The Michigan Departments of Natural Resources along with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) last week confirmed the first case of chronic wasting disease, a fatal and contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose, in a wild deer in the state.

The animal, found sick and euthanized by police last month in Ingham county near Meridian Township, a suburban area that has seen its share of problems with rapidly expanding nuisance whitetail populations, was tested by biologists at both Michigan State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and confirmed to have CWD. Although a case was identified in the state in 2008, that was in a captive herd.

"This is the first case of chronic wasting disease to be confirmed in a free-ranging Michigan white-tailed deer," said DNR Director Keith Creagh in a statement obtained by Michigan Sportsman.

"While it is a disappointing day for Michigan, the good news is that we are armed with a thoughtfully crafted response plan," Creagh said. "We are working with other wildlife experts at the local, regional, state and federal level, using every available resource, to determine the extent of this disease, respond appropriately to limit further transmission, and ultimately eradicate the disease in Michigan if possible."

As part of the response plan, state officials will begin immediately implementing the following steps:
  • Completing a population survey in the area where the CWD-positive deer was found.
  • Establishing a Core CWD Area consisting of Alaiedon, Delhi, Lansing, Meridian, Wheatfield and Williamstown townships in Ingham County; Bath and DeWitt townships in Clinton County; and Woodhull Township in Shiawassee County. Unlimited antlerless deer hunting licenses will be available. Mandatory checking of deer will be required in this area during hunting seasons and restrictions will apply to the movement of carcasses and parts of deer taken in this area.
  • Creating a CWD Management Zone, which will include Clinton, Ingham and Shiawassee counties.
  • Implementing a deer and elk feeding and baiting ban, which will include the Core CWD Area and the larger three-county CWD Management Zone.
  • Prohibiting the possession or salvage of deer killed by collision with a motor vehicle within the Core CWD Area. Also, residents are asked to call in the locations of road-killed deer within this area so DNR staff can pick up for testing. Research shows CWD-infected deer are more likely to be hit by vehicles because of their illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, CWD was first identified as a fatal wasting syndrome similar to Mad Cow Disease in captive mule deer in Colorado in the 1960s then jumped to wild herds in 1981. Since then it has been found in some 23 (now 24) states and affects mule deer, whitetail, elk and moose. However, control programs have dropped the number of states that it has occurred in recent years to just 15.

Hunting advocates are hopeful the Meridian case is an isolated incident and the state's response will snuff out any potential spread of the disease in the wild herds.

"It is possible that it could be an isolated case and we've removed it from the landscape and it's done," William Porter, the Boone and Crockett Chair of Wildlife Conservation in the Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife told the Lansing State Journal. "That's why a pretty significant surveillance effort needs to be undertaken."

The DNR asks help from the public and hunters in reporting deer that are either unusually thin or exhibiting unusual behavior such as acting tame around humans and allowing someone to approach.

To report a suspicious-looking deer, call the DNR Wildlife Disease Lab at 517-336-5030 or fill out and submit the online observation report found on the DNR website.