Keep the Upper Peninsula CWD free

ESCANABA — I’ve been in the woods a lot during the past two weeks and if I were asked to give my perspectives as to what hunting conditions will be like this fall, it could be summarized with one word — wet! The amount of standing water found in our forest lands this year could be one of the highest seen in the 50 years I’ve been hunting. Anyone can see the impact our moist summer has had on everything outdoors and it means hunters will have to adapt to change when they head out as the seasons start. Hunters will also have other adjustments to deal with this fall and it has to do with disease prevention and monitoring.

One of the key pieces of law passed this year by the Michigan Legislature came at the hands of the late State Representative John Kivela. It took two attempts but his tenacity paid off as House Bill 4424 (HB4424), a law that increases the penalties for illegally bringing a deer (or any cervid) carcass into Michigan from another state that is known to have deer that test positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). In one of his last appearances as vice chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee was to testify along with Tony Demboski president of the U.P. Sportsmen’s Alliance UPSA) and U.P. Whitetails Association (UPW) founder Al Ettenhofer and endorse the bill. The new law will not only see an increase in fines between $500 and $2000, and/or a sentence of up to 90 days in jail, it will encompass any cervid illegally brought into Michigan from any other state or province.

“I join with other hunters and thank Rep. Kivela for continuing his fight against this disease that would be catastrophic for Upper Peninsula (UP) hunting,” said Ettenhofer. “I hope this problem is addressed before it is too late.” He’s right because if CWD does present here in the U.P., we’ll switch from a monitoring plan to a reaction plan which will forever impact how deer hunting is done. While there is no CWD documented in the U.P., some feel it to be a matter of time due to the fact that there are CWD positive finds across the Wisconsin border just 30 miles outside the Michigan line.

When CWD first appeared in free ranging deer from the Lower Peninsula, no definitive cause was found even with the closest possible vetor from deer in relative close proximity to captive cervid facilities. In investigating the issue, Ettenhofer determined that a good number of deer and elk brought back to Michigan from the western states and Canada found the hunters had taken the remnants and tossed them into the woods. If infected with the mutant protein (prions), those deposits were there forever and possibly picked up and transmitted to other animals by several different means. He received support in promoting effective prevention measures for the UP and was appointed by the UPSA to represent them on the local task force. This year the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Natural Resources Commission (NRC) decided to assemble a blue ribbon task force statewide and Ettenhofer was recruited to this panel as a sportsmen’s representative.

In addition, recent action by the NRC will now require all processors to register with the MDNR for the purpose of tracking what comes into their facility by species and point of origin. The permit is free of charge and those involved will be given ample information to comply with CWD prevention measures. Ettenhofer was also influential here too in finding that a good number of hunters he spoke too who process their deer at home, including those brought back from out of state, were taking the entrails and carcass (including heads, hide and spinal cords) and tossing them into the woods.

The model for this permit system has been in place for quite some time and includes those in the business of taxidermy.

As is the case for professional processors, the business can only accept those parts of the animal correctly processed and include only the cleaned skull cap (with antlers) and properly prepared hide for work. For both entities, any animal presented outside the guidelines must be reported to the MDNR for investigation. It is so important that the Hunting and Trapping Digest for 2017 has changed in format to highlight the most important updates on the cover.

This year there is a tag “Hunting out of Michigan? Know before you go!” It contains the changes, “If you harvest a deer, elk, moose, or other cervid in any other state, you can only bring back the following cervid parts into Michigan: hides, deboned meat, quarters or other parts of the cervid that do not have any part of the spinal column or head attached, finished taxidermy products, cleaned teeth, antlers, or antlers attached to a skullcap cleaned of brain and muscle tissue. (#mihealthydeer #UPcwdFree H”). The order is further detailed within the digest as, “New Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Regulations. See pgs. 38-41 and 62-63.”

As hunter/conservationists in Michigan, we have an obligation to continue a careful preservation and protection of our natural resources (including our wildlife) as well as our outdoors and hunting heritage, which includes planned management to prevent exploitation, destruction or neglect. Planned management includes amending current philosophy to change with the times. Every hunter is obligated to understand all the regulations related to harvesting wild game. If we don’t participate in entirety and CWD is found here in the UP, that will be cause that will forever change how we hunt and will certainly require a lot more work than that required today.

It’s all up to us.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.