2018-12-06 / Outdoors

Deer disease creeps north

Some 50 tags were ordered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources service center in Traverse City for harvested deer whose owners wanted them tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

They’ve all been used with a month of deer hunting remaining.

“We only asked for 50, but we’ve blown through that already,” said Tim Lyon, a wildlife technician stationed in Traverse City. “We’ll get more tags. The answer is never ‘no’ for testing for CWD,” CWD has had little or no impact so far on deer hunting in Leelanau County, but that will change in 2019 when deer baiting and feeding will be banned starting Jan. 31.

The neurological disease,which was first identified in 1967 in captive mule deer in Colorado, is always fatal. It was confirmed in Ingham County in 2015.

“When it first showed up in Meridian Township, three deer were harvested in a short period. DNR analysis showed they were all from the same genetic line,” Lyon said.

State biologists optimistically hoped that the trail would end with the disposal of one deer family — but it didn’t.

“The more we looked, the more we found. Last year was the first time one showed up in Mecosta County. Then (a map of) Mecosta looked like the measles; there were deer all over Mecosta,” Lyon said.

That’s as far north as deer have tested positive for CWD, but Lyon said the migration pattern has trended north and west. Leading into the 2018 firearms hunt, infected deer had been found in five counties; 11 counties have been included in a management zone. Leelanau is not one of them.

The disease is not thought to be transferable to humans, but meat from infected deer should not be eaten.

And it’s important to carefully dispose of the carcasses of CWD deer. Disease spores can stay in the ground and be picked up by healthy cervids for decades.

Also affected are mule deer, elk, moose and caribou.

— by Alan Campbell

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