LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Thursday transferred responsibility for overseeing captive elk and deer herds from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Natural Resources.

Her executive order will allow for auditing the 800 private deer and elk herds statewide to try to keep any cases of chronic wasting disease from cropping up in Michigan. State officials estimate a complete audit of Michigan’s herds will take about six months and cost about $800,000, paid for by restricted and general fund dollars.

“It allows us to move forward on doing that audit. That is critical,” Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said of the executive order. “We really need to be certain that we’re doing everything we can to keep chronic wasting disease out of the state.”

The move is unpopular with the Michigan Deer and Elk Farmers Association. President Alex Draper, who has about 350 deer in two deer-breeding operations in Clio and Luther, has said in the past that he’s doesn’t want responsibility for licensing, registering and inspecting captive herd operations to be moved to the DNR.

“Our animals are considered livestock,” Draper said. “I don’t know why we need to change. All the issues they’re worried about are covered in the law.”

The governor’s action was welcomed, however, by the National Wildlife Federation, which wants chronic wasting disease to be treated as a wildlife management issue and doesn’t think the Department of Agriculture has the staff or resources to oversee the state’s captive deer and elk herds.

“In signing this executive order, Gov. Granholm has shown that she understands the magnitude of the threat that chronic wasting disease poses to Michigan’s wild deer and elk populations,” said Brian Preston of the federation’s Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor.

Chronic wasting disease, first found in Colorado, is a neurological disease that can devastate wild deer and elk herds. It has spread as far east as Wisconsin and Illinois, raising concern that it could reach Michigan and seriously curb the $500 million bonanza that hunting brings to the state economy each year.

Officials also are worried about potential health risks to humans from the disease. There is no evidence it can be transmitted to humans, but scientists have yet to rule out the possibility.

Former DNR director Dr. Howard Tanner was co-chairman of the Chronic Wasting Disease Task Force, which recommended the audit among other steps when it issued its report last October.

“Given that deer and elk are migratory animals that often move substantial distances, introduction of one infected animal could pose a substantial threat to Michigan’s wildlife. The DNR has the resources to conduct the audit, and it is important we know the results before the 2004 hunting season is upon us,” Tanner said Thursday in a release.

The audit will include inspections of deer and elk farms, including checks of fences and other structures. Inspectors also will look over records to make sure there is an accurate accounting of the number and type of animals at each facility and check movement records to make sure animals haven’t been illegally imported from areas that are known to have the disease or exported to other states or countries.

The Legislature has 60 days to consider the executive order, which has the support of Natural Resources Commission Chairman Keith Charters.

Find the executive order (Regulation and Biosecurity of Privately-Owned Cervidae Livestock Facilities and Operations Executive Reorganization) on the CWD Alliance Policy section.

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