CWD’s rapid spread rate calls for more monitoring

Image provided by Campfire Program in Wildlife Conservation This map shows tracking data for 190 collared deer from Jan. 4, 2017, to June 30, 2018, in the western Upper Peninsula. The relatively-high migratory distance is a concern for agencies trying to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease.

In the Michigan counties where chronic wasting disease (CWD) has already been found, and the counties adjacent, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has set up CWD management zones, where hunters are required to have their deer tested.

Baiting and feeding deer is also banned in an effort to reduce the rate at which the disease spreads, according to Chad Stewart, DNR deer management specialist.

A bait and feeding ban goes into effect across the entire Lower Peninsula effective Jan. 31, 2019. The expanded ban was delayed to accommodate businesses who may have already ordered and stocked seed and bait for this year’s hunting season.

“We can implement it next year and hopefully they can adjust accordingly,” Stewart said.

The widespread ban comes in response to revelations that CWD may have spread more than originally anticipated.

“If it’s too far gone then our chances of success combating it is reduced greatly, and we feel that baiting and feeding is one of those practices that would expedite the spread of the disease,” Stewart said.

CWD’s ability to persist in the environment means that a single mineral lick or corn pile could infect any deer who visits it for years after it is contaminated by an infected deer.

Until a cure or treatment for CWD is found, the DNR is trying to keep the scope of the problem to a minimum. If a treatment is discovered, it needs to be applied to infected deer, which becomes more difficult as the disease covers more geographic area and numbers of deer.

In the U.P., the DNR is trying to keep CWD out as long as possible. Stewart said the DNR is testing “hundreds and hundreds” of deer in Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson and Menominee counties.

“If it does show up in one of those areas, we want to find it as quickly as possible,” Stewart said.

CWD management strategy could be different in the U.P. than it has been downstate. Not only does the land vary greatly, but the deer behave differently, too. U.P. deer tend to migrate much more between seasons than deer in the lower peninsula.

“They can travel 40-50 miles to a winter range,” said John DePue, a DNR biologist.

The DNR knows this because it has been investing in research, including one study that is tracking 190 deer in the western U.P. using electronic collars.

“We want to get a better idea to quantify what those movements are and when they occur so we can best set up our management zones accordingly to help combat this disease if it does show up there,” Stewart said.