Lansing — As of Jan. 9, 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.
“So far, so good,” said Dr. Dan O’Brien, a veterinarian at the DNR’s Rose Lake Research Center. “The test results were all negative.”
Chronic wasting disease is an always fatal disease that attacks the proteins in the brain and literally “wastes” its victims away. The disease has been present in free-ranging and captive deer and elk (farms and hunting preserves) in western states including Colorado since the 1960s. Last year, it jumped the Mississippi River for the first time when it was discovered in a hunter-killed free-ranging deer in Wisconsin.
Little is known on how to combat the disease or on how it is transmitted from one animal to another. There is no data to suggest the disease can jump species and be contracted by humans, but officials won’t say it can’t happen.
When CWD was found in neighboring Wisconsin, state officials in Michigan immediately went on the offensive and adopted a surveillance plan in an effort to keep the disease out of the state.
Part of that plan calls for testing of both free-ranging and captive deer and elk. There is no live test for CWD. State veterinarians remove tissue samples from dead deer and elk and send them to the Animal Health Diagnostic Lab at Michigan State University where testing for CWD is performed.
As of early January, the DNR, which has jurisdiction over free-ranging animals, had received negative results on 3,773 deer samples and 83 elk samples. (The DNR has since turned in an additional 64 deer samples and 18 elk samples, but results on those tests are not expected back until February or March.) The Michigan Department of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction over captive animals — they’re considered livestock — received negative results on 559 samples from captive deer that have been tested.
The 3,773 samples from free-ranging deer came from nearly every county in the state and 387 were from the four counties bordering Wisconsin: 98 from Gogebic County, 79 from Iron County, 83 from Dickinson County and 127 from Menominee County. The 559 samples the ag department turned in were taken from captive deer on 118 farms (cervid operations) in 52 counties.
“We have the luxury of being able to test specific groups of animals,” said Dr. Doug Hoort, a veterinarian with the Michigan ag department. “We test all (captive deer) that die … We have the luxury of testing them because they’re fenced in and we know where they are. Free-ranging animals that are sick or going to die will probably crawl into the thickest cover and die, and no one knows they’re there.”
Michigan’s CWD surveillance plan has a two-pronged approach.
The state ag department issued a one-year moratorium on bringing cervid animals into the state. That moratorium expires in April, and Hoort said the order will be re-evaluated prior to that time to see if it will be extended. In addition, the ag department is testing any animal over 16 months of age that dies or is killed on a cervid operation.
The Michigan DNR eliminated baiting and feeding of deer in the four counties bordering Wisconsin and reduced the limit to two gallons on the ground everywhere else. It also is randomly testing hunter-killed deer for the disease. The DNR also cautioned hunters about bringing harvested animals into Michigan from states known to have animals infected with CWD.
Two hunter-killed mule deer and one elk, all from Colorado, were killed by Michigan hunters last fall and all or parts of the animals were brought into Michigan. CWD tests conducted in Colorado later confirmed that all three animals had the disease. All those remains have been incinerated.
“None of them brought the full carcasses back,” Dr. O’Brien said, “and everything they did bring back was destroyed.
“There is a perception among the public that it could be spread (by consuming the meat of an infected animal), but there is no data to support it. We were looking at it from a preventative measure and the hunters agreed
“They were not interested in consuming the animals.” Dr. Hoort said he believes the state is moving in the right direction and is pleased with the cooperation between the ag department and the DNR.