Chronic wasting disease found in mid-Michigan deer ranch

Lansing, Mich. — A pair of 3.5-year-old white-tailed does from a high-fence deer hunting ranch in mid-Michigan’s Mecosta County recently tested positive for chronic wasting disease. CWD is an always fatal neurological disease that affects cervids including deer, elk, and moose.

This is the second time the disease has been found in a farmed deer facility in Michigan. In 2008, a 3-year-old doe on a Kent County deer farm also tested positive.

“Chronic wasting disease is a serious disease affecting both farmed and free-ranging deer,” Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Veterinarian James Averill said in a statement. “We are following the state’s CWD response plan and taking the necessary steps to protect the health and well-being of all of Michigan’s deer populations.”

CWD was found in the two deer through mandatory testing of all deer killed on deer farms and ranches in Michigan.

“Any discovery of chronic wasting disease in free-ranging or farmed deer is disappointing,” said Chad Stewart, the Michigan DNR’s deer and elk specialist. “It will take significant time and effort – through immediate, targeted surveillance and mandatory checks during the upcoming deer seasons – to understand the current situation. The Michigan DNR remains committed in our efforts to contain this disease and safeguard our valuable wildlife resource.”

Stewart said they are still investigating the findings and the farm and at press time was unsure if the new CWD cases would impact hunting regulations in Mecosta County.

“We’re still doing a thorough investigation and holding off on any regulation recommendations,” Stewart told Outdoor News. “We’re working with the landowners to get permission to shoot some deer,” and test them for CWD. “We’re picking up road kills and will issue disease damage permits,” in the nine townships surrounding the farm. “We need to determine if the disease is outside of the fence,” he said, and added that at the very least the DNR would impose mandatory testing of all hunter-killed whitetails in the nine townships surrounding the high-fence ranch.

In the meantime, the MDARD and DNR are implementing Michigan’s CWD Surveillance and Response Plan, have quarantined the affected farm, and are in the process of depopulating the herd and testing all of the animals. They’re also investigating potential sources of infection and possible areas of spread and identifying all other deer farms within a 15-mile radius, which will undergo a records audit, fence inspection, and increased surveillance testing.

In May 2015, CWD was found in a free-ranging deer in Ingham County. Since then, the DNR has tested nearly 12,000 free-ranging deer for CWD; nine deer have tested positive in Ingham and Clinton counties.

CWD is transmitted from one animal to another through saliva, urine, and feces and through the environment. Infected animals may display abnormal behavior, progressive weight loss, and physical debilitation. To date, there is no evidence that CWD presents any risk to humans or other animals, but as a precaution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend that infected animals not be consumed as food.

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