How will you react to how they react?

ESCANABA — If I’ve had any negative impression as to how the public has absorbed the information shared to date regarding the finding of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in a free ranging deer here in the Upper Peninsula, Just about everyone that comments to me the first time starts off with the question, “So do you think they’ll stop baiting and feeding after this season?”

Really? That’s all you care about?

Well let’s get this point out so it can take a backseat to the real issue.

There is no current plan to ban baiting and feeding in the U.P. A ban is one of the tools in the box but there’s a difference between philosophies of what to do in the two peninsulas of Michigan. Here the resident populations of deer gathered in yarding areas, especially in the high snowfall zone, at times will perish if not for the properly applied supplemental foods provided by wildlife conservation organizations. Each project is registered and monitored by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Wildlife Division. Recreational feeding — the placement of no more than two gallons of appropriate feed per day at home residences away from major road systems – is still open at the option of the individual land owner. However, the cumulative effect of neighbor upon neighbor doing this type of feeding sometimes equals full feeding programs. It is important to not hold deer in areas they shouldn’t be in the first place. Deer need food, shelter, space and water to be in habitat adequate enough to sustain them through rough conditions.

The use of bait for hunting is truly anchored in the sport given the common practice of sitting in a blind. The question itself tells me that this person is either lacking in concern about having healthy deer, or feels there is no hunting left if baiting and feeding are stopped.

My response to most of these engagements is to ask why this is their primary focus? It should be evident the potential for change is a tool in the box but let’s back up to assure we first understand what is in front of us and where those who manage are in gaining full view.

There is only one deer verified to have CWD in the mid-western U.P. The location is such that the point of origin will most likely never be found. The first stage of discovery is to ascertain the related family unit, the deer most interactive with the one found to be infected, and eliminate that unit. It is not an effort to extirpate every deer in the area, it is to minimize the spread risk potential.

There have been a lot of raised eyebrows to the map that shows the boundaries for surveillance extending on into Wisconsin easterly to near Bark River, south to Lake Michigan and north to Lake Superior. The core and extended surveillance areas are in place as a model from which deer migration patterns are known.

Going back to 1989, U.P. Whitetails initiated a study that worked across the U.P. for two decades to establish conclusive data as to where deer move between winter and summer range. Understanding that, the MDNR can have better target focus on where to test deer in higher concentration within the zones. The “hot zone”, if you want to call it that, is still a two mile radius of the find and the next immediate area is a 10 mile radius. That’s it for now.

Given the first plan phase, what we should be most concerned about right now is not baiting and feeding, it is the importance of submitting samples for testing and the proper handling of harvested deer to reduce the spread potential.

Upon taking a deer, hunters should have an idea of which parts of the carcass to avoid. Wearing rubber gloves, staying away from the spine and brain tissue is of utmost importance. One question raised is what to do when removing the head as it is connected to the spine?

It is not a bad idea to do this work at the end of handling your deer. Whatever tool is used to separate the head should be isolated from other knives, etc., used in processing.

If you process your own deer, don’t take the byproducts (carcass parts) and redeposit them to the woods. If contaminated, the animal parts are scavenged and the prions can be carried by other animals to be dropped elsewhere upon deification. The carcass will be accepted at the Delta County Solid Waste Facility. You can put it in your local container for service pick-up and/or bring it out yourself — understanding a fee may be charged.

If there is concern about whether or not you have an infected deer, get it checked. Hold the meat prior to consumption in order to receive confirmation from the MDNR. The turn around is not that long.

Understand that most deer contaminated with CWD do not show compromise until the very late stages prior to death. Information available indicates that some deer actually gain weight as CWD progresses due to their need for enhanced fluid intake. Neurological decay is also a late sign. Testing is most important means to know.

So don’t worry about baiting and feeding right now. Learn everything there is currently available from the MDNR regarding CWD on their website. Feel confident that your conservationist colleagues from the clubs are working hard to know the facts and equally pushing to assure that until such time there imminent conflict, the need to feed will continue to be managed in the best interest of the deer.


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