CWD in Wild Deer Spurs Wildlife Agency’s Action Plan

Chronic Wasting Disease is always fatal and is found in two dozen states and Canadian provinces. (Photo: Wisconsin DNR)

Chronic Wasting Disease is always fatal and is found in two dozen states and Canadian provinces. (Photo: Wisconsin DNR)

Chronic Wasting Disease has been discovered in a wild, free-ranging deer in Michigan, according to conservation department officials, and is the first such case in the state.

CWD is an always-fatal neurological disease that affects deer and other cervids. It had previously been detected in Michigan in deer that were in enclosures.

The wild deer, a doe, was confirmed to have CWD and found in Meridian Township in Ingham County, according to officials with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“This is the first case of chronic wasting disease to be confirmed in a free-ranging Michigan white-tailed deer,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh.

“While it is a disappointing day for Michigan, the good news is that we are armed with a thoughtfully crafted response plan,” Creagh said. “We are working with other wildlife experts at the local, regional, state and federal level, using every available resource, to determine the extent of this disease, respond appropriately to limit further transmission, and ultimately eradicate the disease in Michigan if possible.”

The animal was observed in April wandering around a Meridian Township residence and showing signs of illness. The homeowner contacted the Meridian Township Police Department, who then sent an officer to euthanize the animal. The deer was collected by a DNR wildlife biologist and delivered for initial testing to the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at the Michigan State University Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health in Lansing, Michigan.

After initial tests were positive, samples were forwarded to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for final confirmation. The Michigan DNR received that positive confirmation last week.

The confirmed positive finding triggers several actions in the state’s surveillance and response plan for chronic wasting disease. The plan was developed in 2002 through cooperation between the DNR and MDARD, and was updated in 2012. Actions the DNR will take include:

  1. Completing a population survey in the area where the CWD-positive deer was found.
  1. Establishing a Core CWD Area consisting of Alaiedon, Delhi, Lansing, Meridian, Wheatfield and Williamstown townships in Ingham County; Bath and DeWitt townships in Clinton County; and Woodhull Township in Shiawassee County. Unlimited antlerless deer hunting licenses will be available. Mandatory checking of deer will be required in this area during hunting seasons and restrictions will apply to the movement of carcasses and parts of deer taken in this area.
  1. Creating a CWD Management Zone, which will include Clinton, Ingham and Shiawassee counties.
  1. Implementing a deer and elk feeding and baiting ban, which will include the Core CWD Area and the larger three-county CWD Management Zone.
  1. Prohibiting the possession or salvage of deer killed by collision with a motor vehicle within the Core CWD Area. Also, residents are asked to call in the locations of road-killed deer within this area so DNR staff can pick up for testing. Research shows CWD-infected deer are more likely to be hit by vehicles because of their illness.

Creagh will issue an interim order approving immediate implementation of these actions.

“MDARD is working with the state’s privately owned cervid facilities within a 15-mile surveillance zone to ensure compliance with CWD testing requirements,” said MDARD State Veterinarian James Averill. “For POC facilities located outside of the surveillance zone, there will be no impact. We are, however, encouraging all POCs to continue to be our partners in the state’s CWD testing program.”

“Strong public awareness and cooperation from residents and hunters are critical for a rapid response to evaluate any deer suspected of having chronic wasting disease,” said Steve Schmitt, veterinarian-in-charge at the DNR Wildlife Disease Lab. “We’d like to thank the resident who called local authorities, as well as the Meridian Township Police Department for its swift response.”

The DNR asks help from the public and hunters in reporting deer that are:

  • Unusually thin.
  • Exhibiting unusual behavior (for example, acting tame around humans and allowing someone to approach).

To report a suspicious-looking deer, call the DNR Wildlife Disease Lab at 517-336-5030 or fill out and submit the online observation report found on the DNR website.

Once the DNR has conducted targeted surveillance in the CWD Management Zone, staff will have a better understanding of needed changes in hunting regulations for upcoming deer hunting seasons.

Despite the CWD finding, Schmitt said there is reason for optimism.

“When it comes to chronic wasting disease, Michigan isn’t alone. A total of 23 states and two Canadian provinces have found CWD in either free-ranging or privately owned cervids, or both,” he said. “Michigan will take full advantage of the collective expertise and experience of those who have for years now dealt with chronic wasting disease on a daily basis.”

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