NRC expands chronic wasting disease zone
Lansing — With seven white-tailed deer testing positive for chronic wasting disease in Michigan so far, the Natural Resources Commission approved a DNR proposal to expand both the CWD Core Area and the CWD Management Zone, and tweak some of the regulations being used to manage, and hopefully eradicate, the deadly disease.
When a 6-year-old doe was confirmed with CWD in Ingham County’s Meridian Township in May of 2015 – Michigan’s first confirmed case of CWD in free-ranging deer or elk – state wildlife officials immediately enacted the Michigan Surveillance and Response Plan for Chronic Wasting Disease of Free-Ranging and Privately-Owned Cervids. It established a CWD Core Area and a CWD Management Zone and put several other protocols into action.
Since that initial finding of the always-fatal neurological disease, six more free-ranging Michigan whitetails have been confirmed with CWD. Three were in Meridian Township, one in Clinton County’s DeWitt Township, and two in Watertown Township in Clinton County.
“To continue aggressive surveillance and CWD plan measures, the Department recommends expanding the Core CWD Area to include additional townships adjacent to each location where the seven infected animals were documented,” the DNR wrote in a memo to the Commission explaining the proposal “The Core CWD Area, which will continue to be referred to as Deer Management Unit 333, will now consist of Lansing, Meridian, Williamstown, Delhi, Alaiedon and Wheatfield townships in Ingham County; DeWitt, Bath, Watertown, Eagle, Westphalia, Riley, Olive and Victor townships in Clinton County; Woodhull Township in Shiawassee County; and Oneida and Delta townships in Eaton County. In addition and at a minimum, any county with a boundary that is intersected by a 10-mile radius around each of the documented cases where the infected animals were located has been defined as part of the CWD Management Zone. The CWD Management Zone now includes all of Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Ionia and Shiawassee counties.”
DNR Wildife Chief Russ Mason explained why the changes were made.
“The changes were made because we had evidence that the area affected was larger than what we originally thought is was,” he told MON. “We’re also trying to make it easier to use those permits. We need as many samples as we can obtain and we need the public to work with us to get those samples.
“Folks need to realize how bad this disease is. When Michigan deer hunters think about disease they think of EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease). When EHD is over it’s over. With CWD it’s never over.“
Mason pointed out that every model done on CWD shows that it CWD is left unchecked it would lead to the elimination of all deer. It’s just a matter of how long will it take. Now models are wrong to some extent, but even if it’s half right that’s terrible. Hunters need to take this very, very seriously. We need their continued help and support.”
Among other mandates of the order: loosening the requirements on using land owner permits and antlerless tags; maintaining the ban on feeding and baiting and removing antler point restrictions in DMU 333; continuing to use sharpshooters and to thin the herd and get more samples in the CWD Core Area. Private lands in the management zone are open for the early antlerless season. Antlerless permits and landowner permits are readily available in DMU 333 and the number of permits available in surrounding DMUs has increased. The heads of all deer killed in the CWD Core Area must be presented for testing by the DNR within 72 hours of the kill.
Chronic wasting disease is a contagious, always-fatal, neurological disease that affects cervids – deer and elk. It’s caused by an abnormal protein (prion) that attacks the brain. CWD may be transmitted directly through contact with infected animals, their bodily tissues, and their bodily fluids; additionally they may be infected through contact with infected bodily fluids and tissues, as well as contact with contaminated environments. Once it is established in the environment the prions remain for many years. Decomposing diseased carcasses, gut piles, even velvet from antlers can contaminate the environment. Urine, saliva and feces from an infected animal may also contaminate the environment.
Infected animals generally act abnormally, lose their fear of humans, experience chronic weight loss and loss 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, and is most often found in 3- to 5-year-olds.
The disease has been found in captive or wild deer in 24 states and two Canadian provinces. To date, only two states have been able to eliminate the disease. It was found early and attacked aggressively in those states. In other areas of outbreak the news is not so good. There are areas in Wisconsin, for example, where the infection rate is 40 percent for adult bucks and 27 percent for adult does.
To date, there is no evidence that CWD presents any risk to humans or other mammals. However, as a precaution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend that infected animals not be consumed.
State officials also are asking residents to call (517) 336-5030 to report the location of road-killed deer within this area so DNR staff can pick up the carcass for testing.
As of press time last week the DNR had tested 5,202 whitetails for CWD including 3,093 in the original CWD Core Area, 1,405 in the remainder of the CWD Zone and 704 from the remainder of the state. Five of the positive deer were in the Core Area, the other two were outside the Core Area but still within the CWD Management Zone.