Chronic wasting disease brings new rules for deer hunters

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By Courtney Kendler
Holt Journal Staff Reporter

With the Michigan deer-hunting season in full swing, local hunters should be conscious of new hunting regulations being enforced due to the presence of chronic wasting disease in deer.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has created new regulations that will prohibit the possession or salvage of deer that have been killed in motor vehicle collisions and will also enforce the mandatory testing of deer during the hunting season.

The goal of these new regulations is to “help determine the geographic distribution and magnitude of the disease and lower deer population density, which may lower the propensity for further disease transmission,” said National Wildlife Health Center Emerging Disease Coordinator Bryan Richards.

The salvage of deer that have been hit by motor vehicles is now prohibited within the Core CWD Area. Photo by Courtney Kendler.

The salvage of deer that have been hit by motor vehicles is now prohibited within the Core CWD Area. Photo by Courtney Kendler.

According to information from the DNR, the first case of chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease found in deer and elk that attacks the brain and produces small lesions that result in death, was confirmed in Meridian Township in April 2015. Two additional cases have also been confirmed so far this year.

In order to stop the spread of CWD, the DNR has established 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.

Associate Director of Immunodiagnostics and Parasitology at the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health Dr. Steven Bolin suggests that deer may show a number of signs of infection that hunters should be cognizant of.

“Infected animals may not show any signs of disease for a long time, even years,” said Bolin. “But, in later stages of the disease, animals may exhibit abnormal behavior such as loss of fear of humans, staggering, carrying head or ears lowered, and/or drooling, and they will become very emaciated.”

Richards agrees with this, adding, “clinically-affected CWD deer will show clinical signs including progressive emaciation and behavioral change including loss of fear of humans, excessive salvation and urination.”

Because research suggests that CWD-infected deer are more likely to be hit by vehicles because of their illness, a ban has been placed on the salvage of road-killed deer.

“It is fairly common for someone to hit a deer with their car and try and salvage part of the deer for consumption,” said Eric Hilliard of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “But, in the CWD area, deer salvage is not an option.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division is located within Constitution Hall in downtown Lansing.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Wildlife Division is located within Constitution Hall in downtown Lansing.

While studies have failed to document any cases of CWD resulting in human disease, Nicole LaChonce, an avid hunter and Michigan native, is concerned that CWD could potentially one day affect humans.

“Who’s to say the disease couldn’t mutate and some day infect people?” said LaChonce. “I’d rather get my meat tested and know me and my family are safe then to take the risk that it could cause problems.”

“To date, there has been no evidence that CWD causes illness in humans,” said Bolin. “However, public health officials recommend that humans and domestic animals not eat meat from a cervid that has tested positive for CWD.”

According to LaChonce, the new regulations on deer testing in mid-Michigan will not stop her or her family from hunting. “It would not deter me from hunting because the disease is so contagious and I would want to know if the deer in my area have it,” she said.

While Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Education Technician Hannah Schauer is concerned with the overall well-being of the deer, she is also worried about the effect a decrease in the deer population could have on Michigan’s economy.

According to Schauer, more than 650,000 deer hunters harvest an average of 430,000 deer annually in Michigan. Additionally, deer hunting generates more than $2.3 billion dollars towards Michigan’s economy. Because of this, Schauer said, “a healthy deer herd is critical to the state’s economy.”

The Michigan DNR asks that hunters and motorists be hyper-vigilant of erratic acting deer and that they be contacted immediately with any information regarding possible cases of CWD.

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