New CWD regs won’t affect UP — for now

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/CWD Alliance Seen here is a deer in Wisconsin in an advanced stage of chronic wasting disease.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has set up new restrictions and testing requirements on Michigan deer hunters in an effort to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), which threatens the stability of deer herd populations across America.

The disease is especially dangerous because CWD is caused not by a bacteria or virus, but by a prion, like mad cow disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A prion is an abnormal protein that can induce similar abnormalities in other proteins inside an infected animal. Unlike mad cow disease, CWD has so far not been found to infect humans or domestic cattle.

In deer, CWD causes dramatic weight loss, erratic behavior and ultimately death.

“It’s always fatal,” said Chad Stewart, DNR deer management specialist.

It’s extremely difficult to halt the spread of CWD, according to the CWD Alliance, a nonprofit established by several hunting and conservation clubs. This is because prions are extremely resilient in the environment. They are not susceptible to cold, heat or even fire and will persist, dormant for years, to infect other passing deer.

In addition, CWD has an incubation period of at least 16 months before deer start showing symptoms, but a deer can transmit the disease during that time. With no way to identify live deer with the disease, it’s impossible to know what deer could be carrying it.

“It’s pretty insidious in that it can hide in the population,” Stewart said.

While there’s no evidence to support CWD entirely wiping out whitetail deer, the CWD Alliance does see potential for individual, local herds to die off. CWD can destabilize deer populations by increasing adult mortality rates, which would result in smaller total numbers of deer overall.

In the U.P. this year, local deer hunters have no new restrictions because of CWD, and carcass testing is strictly voluntary.

“They can bring it down here to the office in Baraga, and we’ll send the deer head in for testing,” said John DePue, the local DNR biologist.

Only the head is needed for testing, and if the antlers and skullcap are wanted for trophies, they can be removed, or the carcass can be brought to a taxidermist first.

Hunters who are going to CWD-affected areas like Wisconsin or the Lower Peninsula are only allowed to bring back “hides, deboned meat, quarters or other parts of the cervid that do not have any part of the spinal column or head attached, finished taxidermy products, cleaned teeth, or antlers attached to a skull cap cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue,” states the DNR’s 2018 Hunting Digest.

Hunters caught bringing prohibited parts back into Michigan can be subject to fines, jail time and license revocation.

TOMORROW: The DNR has set up management zones in areas where CWD has been found, and a baiting ban will go into effect Jan. 31, 2019, across the entire Lower Peninsula.