Michigan deer rehab facility may close if rules don’t change

In this undated photo Donna Prevo watches deer from the window of her home in Traverse City, Mich. She and her husband, David Prevo, spend time each night watching the deer come in to eat. (Tessa Lighty/Traverse City Record-Eagle via AP)

Traverse City Record Eagle
AP Member Exchange
TRAVERSE CITY– Rehabilitating motherless fawns could be a thing of the past for one Bingham Township couple.
David and Donna Prevo say a new Michigan Department of Natural Resources policy that says fawns have to be taken back to their county of origin after they’ve been rehabbed will bring about the end of Leelanau Wildlife Care, which takes in orphaned fawns from around northern Michigan.
“It’s going to put us out of business,” said Donna Prevo, 68. “We’re not going to be able to take in fawns next year.”
Deer are herd animals, the Prevos told the Traverse City Record Eagle . This is especially true of the fawns that have been in their care because they have bonded with each other.
“Taking them out of this family unit will kill them. They’ll stop eating and die,” Donna said, calling the new regulations absurd and inhumane.
There is also the fact that when a fawn is brought to the Prevos it weighs between 4 and 7 pounds. When released it can weigh 60 to 70 pounds. In order to transport the fawn, it would have to be sedated by a veterinarian, probably with a tranquilizer gun, and the vet would have to travel with them to the drop-off site, said David Prevo, 67.
“You can’t transport a wild animal,” David said, and whoever made the rule doesn’t understand what Leelanau Wildlife does. “I don’t know why the DNR didn’t contact us, a responsible rehabber, before changing the rules.”
The new rule is meant to curtail the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a central nervous system disease that leads to weight loss and eventual death. The disease has been found in Michigan’s deer population, prompting the DNR to create a 16-county CWD management zone in mid- and lower Michigan.
There is no treatment or cure for the disease, said Kelly Straka, the state wildlife veterinarian. In addition, she said, research shows that fawns can be infected in utero and there is no way of telling if they have the disease when they are born.
“Any time we actually are moving deer alive across the landscape we run the risk of spreading CWD,” Straka said.
There is no treatment for CWD and returning fawns to their county of origin is a solution that stops short of banning their rehabilitation altogether, she said.
Leelanau Wildlife Care is the only place in northern Michigan that rehabilitates fawns, Prevo said. The nonprofit is state-licensed, but the five-year permit is set to expire at the end of this year. Unless the DNR backs down from the new rule — which will go into effect in 2019 — the Prevos won’t renew their license.
Fawns are brought to the couple by conservation officers, sheriff’s deputies, road commission crews and members of the public, who find them injured or lying next to a mother that was killed by a car.
“They’ll lay there until they perish,” Donna said. “People see them on the side of the road and that’s how we get them.”
Fawns are not taken from any county within the CWD management zone or from west of I-75, where bovine tuberculosis has been a problem.
Leelanau Wildlife is in its 10th year and takes in about 15 fawns per year, about half of which survive. This year the couple took in 17; nine survived, though one was later attacked and killed by a dog, Donna said.
The fawns start arriving in spring and are kept in a fenced half-acre fawn pen that is kept wild, natural and wooded. They are bottle fed from the time they arrive, with their formula diet later supplemented by deer feed.
They aren’t cuddled or fondled and are touched as little as possible, Donna said. Even so, they become very attached to the Prevos and remain that way until the herding instinct takes over.
They are released in August, when the pens are opened and the fawns have the run of the couple’s 132-acre property. They’ll come back for a couple of weeks for bottle feedings and for food for several weeks, but little by little they expand their horizons and acclimate to living in the woods.
Adults will often continue to come back to eat, David said. In fact, they know that feeding time is between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. and will gather on the property for a meal.
One doe even brought her fawn back and put it inside the pen to keep it safe, said Donna, who recognizes deer they’ve rehabilitated by their markings and the color of their coat.