Lansing — With the threat of chronic wasting disease looming within 100 miles of Michigan’s border with Wisconsin, Gov. Jennifer Granholm isn’t waiting for news that CWD has been found in the state’s white-tailed deer herd before taking action.

The newly-elected governor recently signed an executive order creating a CWD Task Force to address the threat of the deadly disease in Michigan. Former DNR director Howard A. Tanner will chair the task force and William Taylor, chairman of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University, will be the vice chairman.

“Even though CWD has not yet crossed into Michigan, it poses a threat to our hunting and conservation communities and wildlife resources,” Granholm said in a press release. “This task force will develop a comprehensive statewide prevention plan to limit the threat of the disease.

“I am especially pleased that doctors Tanner and Taylor have agreed to provide their expertise and leadership on this task force. Their credentials are impressive, and their close connection to the hunting and conservation communities will serve this body well as it crafts the best public policies for dealing with CWD.”

The task force will include five other members, yet to be appointed by the governor. The directors of the Departments of Agriculture, Community Health, Environmental Quality, Natural Resources, State Police, and Transportation will serve as non-voting members of the task force.

The initial focus of the CWD Task Force will be to review existing state efforts regarding prevention of the disease; develop and make recommendations to implement a comprehensive and coordinated state CWD prevention plan; make recommendations on the clarification of enforcement authority to prevent the spread of CWD into Michigan; and if ever detected in Michigan, to prevent the spread within the state. It also will recommend a process for the development of a widely-accessible reference database and identify mechanisms to promote effective communications and coordination of efforts between state, federal, provincial, and local officials regarding CWD.

The task force will make its recommendations to the governor by Sept. 19.

CWD has been found in free-ranging deer and/or elk in Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. It also has been found in captive cervids in Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

“As a sportsman, I’m concerned about the spread of CWD into Michigan, and I’m glad that we are taking steps to prevent it,” added Lt. Gov. John Cherry. “The hunting and conservation communities should be assured that preventing CWD in Michigan is a priority for our administration because we recognize the value of our hunting resource.”

CWD belongs to a family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or TSEs. It’s closely related to mad cow disease and is always fatal. CWD attacks the proteins in the brain and literally “wastes” its victims away.

Symptoms include severe weight loss, drooling, walking in circles and loss of fear of humans.

Michigan officials have not stood on the sidelines waiting to see if the disease surfaces here. When CWD was discovered in Wisconsin, the first time it had been found east of the Mississippi River, state DNR and Department of Agriculture officials immediately went on the offensive and adopted a CWD surveillance plan.

That plan calls for testing of both free-ranging and captive deer and elk in Michigan; adopting a moratorium on bringing cervids into the state; testing of any animal over 16 months of age that dies or is killed on a cervid operation; the elimination of baiting and feeding of deer in the four counties bordering Wisconsin, and reduced limits on baiting and feeding across the rest of the state. As of early January, 4,332 of the state’s free-ranging and captive white-tailed deer and elk had been tested for chronic wasting disease and all test results have been negative.