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Michigan deer face potential deadly threat of chronic wasting disease

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A serious health threat to the state’swild deer population has been detected in mid-Michigan. 

A six-year-old doe found in Haslett last month has tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

The neurological disease is always fatal.  The disease is transmitted through saliva and other bodily fluids.   The disease is fatal to deer, elk and moose. 

Chronic wasting disease first was identified in 1967 as a clinical disease in captive mule deer at the Colorado Division of Wildlife Foothills Wildlife Research Facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since then, most CWD cases have occurred in western states, but in the past 15 years it has spread to some Midwestern and eastern states.

In all, CWD has been detected in 23 states and two Canadian provinces. 

There was a case in Michigan in 2008.  A white-tailed deer from a privately owned facility in Kent County tested positive for CWD. 

This is the first case involving a free-ranging white-tailed deer. 

State wildlife officials admit they don’t know where the deer in Meridian Township may have contracted the disease. Genetic testing suggests the deer is from the local area. 

And it may not be alone.

“Nobody can say there aren’t others out there,” says Steve Schmitt, veterinarian-in-charge at the DNR Wildlife Disease Lab. “I would expect that this is not the only CWD-positive deer.”

If CWD is not contained, it could have a serious effect on Michigan’s deer, elk, and moose populations.

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Mandatory checking of deer will be required in the affected area during hunting seasons and restrictions will apply to the movement of carcasses and parts of deer taken in this area.

“Our hope and thought at this time is we only have one confirmed deer … is that this will not be going statewide,” says James Averill, the state veterinarian.  

State wildlife officials are launching several effortsto contain the potential spread of CWD. During the next three years, the Department of Natural Resources will encourage hunters to kill more deer in parts of Ingham, Clinton, and Shiawassee Counties. The DNR is also stepping up its testing of deer from the affected areas.

“Today’s announcement … is nothing short of tragic and today is a day many of us hoped would never come, though it is not wholly unexpected,” said Dan Eichinger, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs.  

The major hunting lobbying group is urging Michigan hunters to work with state wildlife officials to control and hopefully eradicate CWD in Michigan.  

Anyone observing unusually thin or deer behaving strangely to call the DNR Wildlife Disease Lab at 517-336-5030. There is also a way to file a report with the DNR online.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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