Chronic Wasting Disease: What & Where It Is, New Regulations Hunters Need to Know

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission in Lansing recently approved a series of deer hunting regulations aimed at slowing the spread of chronic wasting disease.  The action came after months of commission members and Department of Natural Resources staff hearing from hunters, residents and others interested in the long-term health of the state’s deer population, and a thorough review of the best available science on chronic wasting disease (CWD).

“We hope that by setting these specific CWD regulations we can limit the movement of this disease in Michigan,” said Vicki Pontz, NRC chairperson.  “We appreciate all the comments we have received from across the state.  Michigan hunters are very passionate about deer and deer hunting, and I look forward to working with them as we continue to confront this threat to wildlife and our valued hunting tradition.”

CWD is a fatal neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in cervids – deer, elk and moose. The disease attacks the brains of infected animals and produces small lesions that result in death. There is no cure; once an animal is infected, it will die.

The disease first was discovered in Michigan in a free-ranging deer in May 2015. To date, more than 31,000 deer in Michigan have been tested for chronic wasting disease, and CWD has been confirmed in 60 free-ranging deer in six Michigan counties: Clinton, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent and Montcalm.

“We are committed to maintaining healthy Michigan wildlife for current and future generations,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “One of our chief goals is to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease to other areas of the state. That’s why we’ve taken strategic action, in partnership with local communities, hunters and others, to best address CWD in Michigan’s deer population.”

The DNR will be working with surrounding landowners, farmers, local governments and hunters to better understand this new finding.

“Strong public awareness and cooperation from residents and hunters are critical for a rapid response,” said Kelly Straka, state wildlife veterinarian. “We’d like to thank the individuals who called the DNR; without their help, we would not be aware that CWD may be within Jackson County.”

The DNR is asking for help from hunters and the public in reporting deer that are:

  • Unusually thin, lethargic, with drooping head and ears.
  • Exhibiting unusual behavior (for example, acting tame around humans and allowing someone to approach).

To report a suspicious-looking deer, call your local DNR field office or fill out and submit the online observation report found on the DNR website.

The approved deer hunting regulations, which will be in effect for the 2018 deer seasons unless noted otherwise, include:

  • Reduced the 4-point on-a-side antler requirement on the restricted tag of the combination license in the 16-county CWD Management Zone. Under the new regulation, a hunter in the CWD Management Zone can use the restricted tag of the combination license to harvest a buck with antlers as long as it has at least one 3-inch antler.
  • Created a discounted antlerless license opportunity in the CWD Management Zone on private land; if purchased, the license will expire Nov. 4, 2018.
  • Effective immediately, a statewide ban on the use of all natural cervid urine-based lures and attractants, except for lures that are approved by the Archery Trade Association.
  • An immediate ban on baiting and feeding in the 16-county area identified as the CWD Management Zone. This area includes Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa and Shiawassee counties.
  • A ban on baiting and feeding in the Lower Peninsula, effective Jan. 31, 2019, with an exception to this ban for hunters with disabilities who meet specific requirements. The start date on this regulation is intended to allow bait producers and retailers time to adjust to the new rule.
  • Effective immediately in the CWD Management Zone and four-county bovine tuberculosis area (in Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Oscoda counties), hunters with disabilities who meet specific requirements can now use 2 gallons of single-bite bait, such as shelled corn, during the Liberty and Independence hunts.
  • Allowance of all legal firearms to be used in muzzleloader season in the CWD Management Zone.
  • A purchase limit of 10 private-land antlerless licenses per hunter in the CWD Management Zone.
  • Restrictions on deer carcass movement in the five-county CWD Core Area (Ionia, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm and Newaygo counties) and the CWD Management Zone.
  • Antlerless options on deer licenses/combo licenses during firearms seasons in the five-county CWD Core Area.
  • Expansion of early and late antlerless seasons in select counties.
  • Changes to regulations regarding wildlife rehabilitators.

In addition, the commission asked the DNR to move forward with:

  • An experimental mandatory antler point restriction regulation in a five-county CWD Core Area, including Ionia, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm and Newaygo counties. The restriction would begin in 2019, provided a survey of hunters shows support for the requirement and specific department guidelines are met. This is intended as a tool to evaluate the effects of antler point restrictions on the spread and prevalence of CWD, along with deer population reduction.
  • A hunter-submitted proposal for mandatory antler point restrictions in Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, St. Clair and Lapeer counties. If hunter surveys support this regulation and specific department guidelines are met, it would be implemented in 2019.

These regulations come after much collaborative work to better understand the scope and pathways of CWD and best management actions. In October 2017, Michigan hosted a CWD symposium that brought together roughly 200 wildlife scientists and other experts from across the country.

More information on regulations

Details on all regulations will be added next week to the online hunting digests on the DNR website, and DNR staff will be available at deer-check stations during the hunting seasons, too.

More information about these regulations also will be posted next week to the michigan.gov/cwd website. For additional questions, contact the DNR Wildlife Division at 517-284-9453.

 

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