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Deer disease monitoring vital to economy

Chronic wasting disease isn’t something to be taken lightly, and we’re glad to see the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and hunters throughout the state have wisely turned their attention toward it.

Back in October, a white-tailed deer tested positive for the deadly disease in Waucedah Township, at the southeast end of Dickinson County. It was the first to be discovered in the Upper Peninsula, and was found about 4 miles from the border with Wisconsin, where CWD has been detected in about 55 of the state’s 72 counties.

So far this year, about 22,000 deer have been tested for CWD in Michigan, and in the past month, 18 have been suspected to have the disease. But none of those were in the U.P. and that’s good news for hunters up here.

The DNR recently surpassed its goals for CWD testing in certain surveillance areas in the U.P., with no sign of it turning up in results. The surveillance is nothing new. The DNR has been checking deer heads for CWD over the past three years in the U.P.’s border counties with Wisconsin — in Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson and Menominee counties.

This year, the DNR set a minimum goal of 600 deer heads for a core surveillance area laid out around Waucedah Township. It surpassed that goal and checked more than 700 as of earlier this month. An expanded surveillance area included Marquette County where a minimum testing goal of 300 deer heads was set. That number too was surpassed, and more than 500 deer heads were checked by DNR personnel. Those figures included road-killed animals and deer taken under deer damage shooting permits. All tests showed negative results for CWD.

Even though one deer head tested positive for the disease here earlier this year, we have to believe things could be much worse for the Upper Peninsula hunting industry.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal nervous system disease found in deer, moose and elk. It attacks the brain of the infected animal and creates small lesions, which result in neurologic symptoms and ultimately the death of the animal. CWD-positive deer may not show any symptoms of the disease for a long period of time, possibly years, but the later stages often include symptoms like loss of coordination, changes in behavior such as a loss of fear of humans or awareness of surroundings, loss of body condition and excessive drooling and salivating.

So far, there haven’t been any reported cases of CWD infection in humans, but the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend eating CWD-positive meat.

You can learn more about chronic wasting disease online by visiting michigan.gov/cwd.

Though the widely popular firearm hunting season has come to a close, archery, muzzleloading and late antlerless firearm deer seasons are continuing for the next couple weeks and into the new year.

Monitoring for CWD relies largely on public support, and we encourage any remaining hunters out there to submit their deer heads for testing. It’s free and results are typically available in 14 days.

Michigan has roughly 600,000 hunters who harvest about 430,000 deer annually, according to a fact sheet found on the state’s website.

The sport generates more than $2.3 billion each year to Michigan’s economy, and without proper management of CWD, that money — and a favorite pastime for many — could be in jeopardy.

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