Update on CWD in the U.P.

ESCANABA — Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was discovered in the the state of Colorado at a captive cervid facility over half a century ago. There has been a long time belief that it was caused by the use of blood meal products introduced into the food of captive cervids to enhance their intake of protein for the purpose of building body mass. It, CWD, is a mutant protein which causes the deadly effect of neurological lesions ultimately impacting brain function and, unlike a virus or bacteria, does not go away once the damage is done and/or it leaves the host body.

As CWD began its trek outside into the free ranges of Colorado and other states, the state of Michigan, through the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), put up a ban on the use of blood meal or any other animal byproducts in feed used here. It later joined other states and Canadian Provinces in banning the importation of any full carcass cervids harvested by hunters. The animal has to be processed (i.e. caped, boned out and meat wrapped, no skeletal parts except a cleaned skull cap) in order to be brought home in Michigan.

The late Rep. John Kivela added a bill that was passed into law to add fines to those who violate the rule. Is has been taken that seriously by all players to support the need for more teeth in protecting the U.P. region.

The only potential “smoking gun” to lay blame on how CWD moved around the country and now into Michigan was that it came in on the back of a truck. This is an all encompassing position as it covers everything from live transport of infected cervids to private facilities, carcasses brought back illegally, etc. There is now a difference in theory given that a free ranging deer has now been found in the Upper Peninsula.

Since being discovered in the Lower Peninsula (LP), CWD has now been verified in captive and free ranging deer. The reaction plan in place will, this coming year, call for the ban of all baiting and feeding of deer. It is high on the radar of U.P. conservationists, mostly due to the potential losses of deer in the high snowfall zones where populations of deer are still below base levels. Feeding programs permitted in this area are not openly permitted in the southern U.P. There is a specific formula that triggers whether or not deer will face heightened mortality due to winter conditions and thus permit supplemental feeding to the south. Unfortunately, even given the rule, a great number of feeding sites grace the landscape across the whole peninsula that the MDNR now admits are beyond their scope of knowledge. It is a large machine and the public fears the plug will soon be pulled, shutting it down. That’s premature as where we are at today with CWD is not yet clearly defined.

Officials within the MDNR are currently focussed on increased surveillance to establish how big the problem is and where it exists. The same was done in the L.P., which led to kicking in the ban. We may not like it, but the decision made was in the box of tools being used to combat the spread. According to MDNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason, “The process of discovery will take up to two years. The MDNR will increase surveillance efforts and exam of harvested deer to find if a pattern of spread is there.” Until then, no changes are being made. It doesn’t mean they won’t happen — it is an option.

It doesn’t matter where the point of origin came from, be it a migratory deer from Wisconsin, contact contamination from a game ranch or an incidental plant from a tossed carcass. CWD is here.

One of the other tools in the box is the taking of deer within the core area. The areas being watched are marked as expanded surveillance, core surveillance and “hot zone” which is a two and 10 mile radius of land from the point of discovery.

The actual land mark of where the four year old doe infected with CWD was shot is being kept quiet to protect the landowners option of anonymity. Regardless of actual geographic markers, the reaction plan for this area is to harvest more deer. A good portion of the area is land held in private ownership. The MDNR is issuing special permits to landowners with parcels of 5 acres or more acres inside the reaction area to take more deer. Whether or not these same stakeholders will agree to participate remains to be seen.

As of Thursday, Deer Management Units (DMUs) bordering the reaction zone are undersubscribed for private land antlerless deer hunting license sales. DMU-055 which is mostly in Menominee County has 2,435 antlerless permits for over the counter sale. DMU-122 in Dickinson County has 132 open permits and DMU-155, primarily Delta County has 531. These numbers do rapidly change as we get closer to the opening of the firearm deer hunting season but there is still a good possibility some permits will go unsold.

Another point of emphasis the MDNR is working on for this season and balance of the year are collection points for heads to be tested, whether they be drop barrels or actual places for deer registration. The MDNR further states that if you are concerned about consuming your venison, there is more incentive to get it checked first so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor with confidence.

These are but a few points being covered to date. More will be presented as they emerge.


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