Column: Chronic wasting disease plan in place

ESCANABA — What may well be the most significant impact we’ve ever seen regarding hunting regulations, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) now has refined direction in addressing the issue of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the state.

The process leading to this point in which the NRC has to make any regulatory changes for the upcoming 2018 deer hunting season, is so changes can be in print by Aug. 1, having run the course for public input. Open surveys, meetings and online feedback concluded in early May and achieved participation from a total of 38,484 respondents. The online survey included 29,664 complete responses, all of which were fielded from March 22 through April 16, 2018.

The most common concern regarding the future of the Michigan whitetailed deer is disease as indicated by 74 percent of respondents. In that category, 80 percent put CWD at the top of their list. According to the report analysis, “People are largely familiar with CWD but where and how it impacts them is highly varied.” The second highest concern had to do with harsh winter conditions which is clearly evident in the Upper Peninsula.

While there has been great effort in creating public awareness regarding CWD, the numbers returned from the surveys indicate only a fair amount of general knowledge as only 8% were extremely familiar with the topic while 31 percent and 33 percent were moderately to somewhat familiar with the topic respectively.

Everyone indicated their belief that CWD is a threat with 29% indicating their belief is was major to 48% indicating they thought it to be a moderate threat.

Information obtained and/or shared by all natural resource governmental agencies, conservation/hunting groups and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) received favorable marks for credibility of information with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) scoring the highest at 82% overall. Michigan newspapers were the lowest media source showing only a 25 percent confidence rating. There was some positive adjustment to printed media from sources that specialized in related (outdoors) topics. The mix of communications medium was close averaging 10 – 15% with newspapers (or press), stakeholder or public meetings, radio, social media and email ranking highest to lowest.

Comments most heard regarding hunting regulations centered on baiting (not including feeding), antler point restrictions and the liberalization of antlerless harvest. 36.3% of respondents want to expand the baiting ban (which could be considered statewide), while 13.1 percent ask to not ban baiting. 14.1 percent want to abolish antler point restrictions while 11.1% want to increase them. 18.1% recommend liberalizing antlerless harvest which would perhaps directly impact the combination license currently in place with bucks only and restricted on both tags in the U.P.

Means of connection with the MDNR to register deer had a large response that ranged from mandatory checks, locations and hours to check in and expansion of self-service deer head drop stations.

The public evaluation of engagement meetings was very positive with 81.1 percent indicating an immediate increase in knowledge and 65.8% indicating they had an opportunity to share their concerns. In all, 83.1 percent of participants agreed the time invested was worthwhile.

So what then will the NRC most likely do for 2018?

Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) has put together a Summary of Proposed CWD Regulations (https://mucc.org/summary-of-proposed-cwd-regulations/#respond). The full document under consideration by the NRC is available via https://michigan.gov/documents/dnr/12WCO2018_CED_Regs_INFO_624924_7.pdf.

The MUCC Summary indicates the lone statewide regulation recommendation is that only synthetic cervid (deer family) urine and natural urine products approved with the Archery Trade Association (ATA) Seal of Participation will be allowed.

The only areas where baiting and feeding are directly restricted beyond current regulations are in the Lower Peninsula. A deer baiting and feeding ban throughout the entire Lower Peninsula will go into effect Jan. 31, 2019. The only exception will be made for hunters with disabilities outside of the 13-county CWD Management Zone during the Liberty (September 2-day) and Independence (October 4-day) Hunts.

There will be an expansion of the existing and extended late December antlerless seasons to several LP counties, intended to encompass the CWD Management Zone as well as some perimeter counties.

Within the CWD Management Zone, the counties will expand to now including 13 and coincide with the baiting and feeding ban currently limited to the seven original counties since 2017. There is mention of discounted and implementation of a new early antlerless hunting season October 11-14, 2018 on private lands.

The CWD Core Area would be narrowed to five counties with carcass movement restrictions within the core area unless submitted for testing. “This is (a) mandatory check for people wishing to take their carcass out of the Core Area.” There would also be a consideration of a January disease management hunt but that would be done through a Director’s Order. Single buck licenses in the core area would offer a choice to hunters in harvesting a doe as an alternative and use a combination license for one four point or better buck with the other the option of any legal buck, two does or 1 buck and 1 doe.

While this seems to be a logical approach in combating the spread of CWD, my concern is that objections will be raised when it is understood that the UP is exempt from these regulations for now.

Broad restrictions over the quantity of bait allowed for use when the first ban for the LP was put into effect during the Bovine Tuberculosis era was cause for LP hunters to claim discrimination. The UP was thus dragged into a statewide policy.

What appears to help in distinguishing the different needs between the UP and LP now, is the concerted effort spearheaded by UP Whitetails Association (UPW) and the UP Sportsmen’s Alliance (UPSA) for separate considerations given the unique seasonal climate, habitat, topography and migratory information of the UP deer. Changes will certainly occur if and when CWD is found here.

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

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