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As deer season begins, testing for chronic wasting disease ramps up again

An emaciated deer stands near a fence.
Terry Kreeger
Wyoming Game and Fish Department/CWD Alliance
A deer infected with chronic wasting disease.

Archery season for deer started over the weekend, and that means state officials are gearing up to test more deer for chronic wasting disease

The disease is contagious, and it’s always fatal for the animals. It creates tiny holes in their brains, and deer get very skinny and start acting strange.

Since it was first found in wild deer in Michigan last year, seven deer have tested positive, with an 8th case suspected.

So far, the cases are clustered. Five were found in Ingham County, and three in Clinton County.

Chad Stewart is the deer management specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“Once we get more hunter-harvested deer brought in this year, I would not be surprised if we found a few more positives up in those locations,” he says.

He says so far, 6,000 deer have been tested for CWD.

“And only finding eight tells us the disease hasn’t been there that long, it’s not very widespread in our deer herd,” says Stewart.

He says they're hoping to test another 4,000 to 5,000 deer this fall.

The DNR wants hunters anywhere in Michigan to report any deer that looks sick by calling (517) 336-5030.

Stewart says they want hunters anywhere in Michigan to report any deer that looks sick (you can fill out a form online hereor call (517) 336-5030).

Stewart says the disease is very hard to get rid of and it’s probably here to stay. But he says they’re hoping to keep it contained. He says there’s no evidence the disease can affect people, but if a deer tests positive, you shouldn’t eat it.

“We follow the lead for the World Health Organization and Center[s] for Disease Control and Prevention and recommend that you don’t eat an animal that has this disease,” says Stewart.

A complication for hunters

One issue hunters ran into last year was that some processors in mid-Michigan didn’t want to take deer.

Amy Trotter is the deputy director with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

“Last year, the processors that will take deer and turn it into sausage or package it or whatever for a fee, they weren’t really set up to keep deer separate until they got the test results so there were a number of deer processors in the area that did not take deer last season,” she says.

She says hunters are concerned about this because they don’t want healthy deer to go to waste.

The DNR’s Chad Stewart says the agency has been talking to processors. He says some still don’t want to take any deer. Others will only take deer that have a good test result, and some are still doing business as usual (taking all deer). He recommends calling ahead to check with processors in your area before you bring in a deer.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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