No CWD found in 9,000 wild deer

Lansing – Nearly 9,000 free-ranging white-tailed deer have been
tested for chronic wasting disease since Aug. 25 and, so far, none
have tested positive.

“What that means is that we have tested a lot of deer for CWD
and we haven’t found it,”_ DNR veterinarian Dr. Steven Schmitt told
Michigan Outdoor News. “I’m certainly feeling better than I did on
Aug. 25 when I was informed that CWD had been found in Kent County
(on a deer farm). What this means is that we don’t have a large
outbreak like they do in Wisconsin.”

As of Dec. 11, the DNR had tested 8,749 free-ranging whitetails
statewide. In the nine townships surrounding the farm where the
infected deer was found – Tyrone, Solon, Nelson, Sparta, Algoma,
Courtland, Alpine, Plainfield, and Cannon – the DNR has tested
1,445 deer. In the eight counties surrounding the farm – Kent,
Ottawa, Muskegon, Montcalm, Newaygo, Iona, Barry, and Allegan –
3,545 deer have been tested.

“We’ve tested 1,500 deer in the nine townships (surveillance
zone), but there are 13,000 deer in that area,” Schmitt said. “If
(CWD) was there at a 0.2 prevalence rate there would be 26 infected
deer. By testing 1,500 deer, we have 95-percent confidence that we
would have found at least one positive. But let’s say there were
six infected deer in that area. Then our testing wouldn’t have
picked it up. That’s why we will continue to test for two more
years.”

The state DNR and Department of Agriculture announced on Aug.
25, that a 3-year-old doe culled from a deer farm in northwest Kent
County had tested positive for CWD. That finding immediately put
Michigan’s Surveillance and Response Plan for CWD into action. The
plan was developed in 2002 in response to the discovery of CWD in
free-ranging whitetails in Wisconsin. In an effort to keep the
fatal neurological disease from spreading, the plan calls for a
number of measures to be taken if CWD is found – even within 50
miles of the state line – including increased testing and a ban on
deer baiting and feeding.

CWD is caused by an abnormal protein (prion) that attacks the
brain of infected deer, elk, and moose. Infected animals experience
chronic weight loss, act abnormally, and lose control of body
functions as they “waste away” before succumbing to the disease.
Symptoms of CWD don’t usually appear until the animal is 18 months
old or older. It is most often found in 3- to 5-year-old
animals.

There is no evidence that CWD presents a risk to humans.

CWD has been found on game farms in Colorado, Nebraska,
Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, and
New York, and in wild deer populations in Colorado, Wyoming,
Nebraska, South Dakota, Illinois, New Mexico, Utah, Wisconsin, New
York, West Virginia, Kansas, and Saskatchewan.

Baiting and feeding

Baiting and feeding of white-tailed deer immediately was banned
in the Lower Peninsula when the state CWD Surveillance and Response
Plan was put into action. But since no CWD-positive deer have been
found in the wild, some hunters are wondering if the baiting ban
will be lifted next year.

Not likely, according to John Madigan, of the state Natural
Resources Commission. The NRC_sets policy for the DNR.

“I don’t see (removing the ban) happening for next year (hunting
season),” Madigan told MON. “CWD has an incubation period of 18
months. We have to be sure we cover all our bases before we do
anything.

“The disease was definitely found. It has a long incubation
period. We don’t know where it came from. There are a lot of
unanswered questions, and until we get the answers, it wouldn’t be
prudent to make any changes. I don’t see the momentum on the
commission changing until we get some answers.”

Rising costs

The cost of testing some 9,000 whitetails for CWD is approaching
$1 million, or about $120 per deer. But Schmitt said that price tag
is a little misleading.

The state has been testing Michigan whitetails for bovine
tuberculosis since 1994, and Schmitt said that because the same
lymph node is used to test for CWD and TB, that all the animals
that are tested for CWD also are tested for TB. The price tag
includes both tests, collecting and transporting the deer heads
from collection spots to the lab in East Lansing, incinerating the
heads, sending postcards to hunters informing them that their deer
are disease-free, as well as the daily duties of those collecting
and testing the samples. Much of that work would have taken place
for TB testing, anyway.

Costs for the testing, Schmitt said, are being paid from the
state’s General Fund (75 percent),_the DNR’s Game and Fish
Protection Fund (20 percent), and the USDA (5 percent).

In addition, USDA Wildlife Services has provided four employees
working at the testing lab. USDA also continues to conduct CWD
research at its wildlife disease lab in Ames, Iowa.

TB testing update

As of Dec. 11, state officials had tested about 14,000
whitetails for bovine TB. Four of those tests have been positive,
and additional tests are being conducted to confirm the presence of
TB.

“They were all from DMU 452,”_Schmitt said. DMU 452 is the area
in the heart of the TB_outbreak in northeastern Lower Michigan.

“We’re still getting heads for testing and will get them right
through the end of the year,”_Schmitt said.antlerless season.”

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