The public reaction to CWD

ESCANABA — The reaction to the news of a positive chronic wasting disease (CWD) find in the Upper Peninsula has been just about as I expected. It is comparable to a tsunami after an earthquake. You know it’s coming but not sure how devastating it will be. Either way, it’s never good.

The press release issued last week through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) came so fast through social media that I had to call John Pepin – DNR communications coordinator, Marquette, to see if it was real. I thought it must be a hoax because media outlets usually get these notifications ahead of time. As it turns out, this was really late breaking news that spread faster than a wildfire on a hot, dry windy day.

While the MDNR posted the information on the CWD find, the reaction from the public kicked into gear, some astonished with others raising an eyebrow with a “well we knew it was coming” sigh. That is how distant the knowledge of CWD and the potential for spread to the U.P. appears to be between those who’ve been working the last several years on developing a unique plan of action here versus those who haven’t stayed on top of updates. The information now being shared on social media is a sign that a good number of the hunting public are grabbing at anything available to become educated or to help them maintain a level of denial.

When the MDNR started to coordinate monitoring and reaction planning in the Lower Peninsula once CWD was found there, conservation representative stakeholders in the U.P. gathered to formulate an exclusive reaction plan in the event CWD made it here. The two peninsulas are unique in concentration of forestland and deer. The southern L.P. is even further removed from the other two landscapes. What is known in the U.P., making it exclusive, is that deer migrate great distances between winter and summer range. Studies done almost three decades ago was the most concise data ever made available to the MDNR. The work was done mostly by volunteers of a newly formed conservation group tied tightly to deer management as U.P. Whitetails Association, Inc. While we pretty much learned the travel corridors in the U.P., we did not consider the concentration of deer that also migrated out of Michigan on into Wisconsin, thus the renewal of the study, this time using GPS tracking systems. Given the high prevalence of CWD in Wisconsin, U.P. wildlife biologists agreed that this information was essential to best coordinate surveillance efforts here. It is from this that a four year old doe harvested in September was tested and subsequently found to be the first U.P. positive CWD find.

Now for the tsunami.

Deer & Deer Hunting (D&DH) Magazine was originally published out of Door County in Wisconsin. It has been a premier deer oriented magazine with strong demographics making it stand alone as a source of focused information related its title, the management and opportunity to hunt white-tailed deer. Today, there are three contact addresses for D&DH that range from Wisconsin to Ohio and Florida.

While the work advanced in the UP/CWD management plan Daniel Schmidt, the editor of D&DH magazine, amazingly published an editorial (June 14, 2018) where he states: “We’re not exactly sure what’s going on in Michigan, their deer and chronic wasting disease — other than the fact that state-employed deer managers there seem intent on spinning the same, old bureaucratic lies about CWD that nearly crippled their deer hunting brothers and sisters across the border in Wisconsin more than 16 years ago.” His remarks further into the column deny connection with the spread of CWD through urine and the transmission rate of deer at bait stations and places where supplemental feeding takes place. Schmidt’s opinion parallels those of the belief there isn’t any validity to what’s happening to the planet regarding climate change. He can’t qualify his position with a “remain call all is well” perspective.

If anything, the tons of data made available to the Michigan CWD task force would include how Wisconsin’s inaction over 16 years can currently be slated as the poster child of what not to do.

In 2011 Wisconsin’s Governor Walker signed Act 21, which revamped administrative rule-making for state agencies. The act curtailed the Wisconsin Conservation Congress citizen-based advisory role to the seven-citizen Natural Resources Board, which sets DNR Policy. Those rule-making powers now reside with the governor.

The Green Bay Press Gazette headline from Oct. 5, 2018 states that a “(Wisconsin) legislative committee decides CWD isn’t all that urgent after all.” It’s only been sixteen and a half years since CWD’s discovery Wisconsin’s in Iowa County.

The story indicates that the rule banning movement of live animals from live captive elk/deer farms in CWD counties has been waved and that the ban on transporting whole deer (carcasses) from within Wisconsin’s (now) 55 CWD-affected counties is not being followed.

To date, the remaining rule regarding the 376 captive deer/elk farms to enhance their fencing in Wisconsin has not been enforced. Those facilities found over the border from the UP that are confirmed to be contaminated with CWD have no barriers to stop nose-to-nose transmission.

In a report published by Patrick Durkin from USA Today Network Wisconsin on October 18, 2018, He indicates that in 2010, the now Governor Walker plan promised to “keep the politics out of the woods and put the deer back in,” and declared that management must be “based on objective science and the best interests of the taxpayers and license buyers.” Does this mean they would thus manage CWD based on political appeasement? Isn’t good conservation decision making based on consideration of the resource first?

There is more information to share regarding this issue and that will be covered next week.


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