CWD Update: No Uniform Approach to Fight Deadly Deer Disease

Does this buck have chronic wasting disease? There is no obvious way to tell during the early stages, as a deer may live more than two years before showing any symptoms of the disease. (Photo: Darren Warner)

At the recent Chronic Wasting Disease Symposium, Bryan Richards from the U.S. Geological Survey Office provided a limited national perspective on controlling the deadly disease.

“There really is no uniform federal perspective or approach to managing CWD, as the government hasn’t developed one,” Richards said during the October symposium in East Lansing, Mich.

Nonetheless, the federal government gets involved in managing CWD because of its authority over some wildlife populations.

This Michigan buck clearly has a disease and is in poor health. Michigan DNR confirmed post-mortem that it had CWD. (Photo: Michigan DNR)

“Federal authority to deal with CWD occurs on federal lands and whenever deer cross state lines or international boundaries,” Richards added.

Nearly all states have a CWD stakeholder committee, charged with doing something about the disease. Richards noted that it’s the responsibility of each stakeholder group to learn all they can about CWD; consider what science can tell us about the disease; examine what other states and Canadian provinces have done to manage CWD; and then formulate a CWD management plan in their state.

Richards also discussed the difficulties with convincing some that a CWD management plan is needed in every state.

“For the majority of the disease’s incubation period, about two years, deer look completely healthy and normal,” added Richards. “This can lead many to think that CWD is no big deal. But Colorado, which has had CWD for decades, found that the disease can reverse the population growth for elk.”

Most have seen a CWD Surveillance Map that’s updated and published by the CWD Alliance, showing where the disease has been found in North America. Richards cautioned against assuming the map provides an accurate, up-to-date overview of where CWD is impacting cervids.

“The CWD map doesn’t show the geographic distribution of CWD,” explained Richards. “It only shows what surveillance and CWD testing have revealed in terms of where CWD has been found.”

Finally, while there’s no evidence that humans can get CWD, both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend not eating any meat from an animal that has tested positive for the disease.

D&DH contributor and Michigan resident Darren Warner is providing updates from the CWD Symposium, held Oct. 3-6 in East Lansing, Mich. It was hosted by the Michigan departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture and Rural Development, and featured top deer researchers from across the country. To find other reports here on the site, search for “CWD Updates.”