Well, it happened. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was found in a free-ranging deer in Michigan. DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason has infamously said many times, “it’s not a matter of if, but when”. We knew it would get here, we just really really hoped it would still be long in the future.
Especially me. I was at MUCC for just a year when CWD first paid Michigan a visit, to a captive deer in Kent County in 2008. Thankfully, it was the only one. But the resulting peninsula-wide ban on baiting and feeding (which MUCC supported) made me the subject of leers, booing, and even personal threats. I literally had nightmares of being pelted by carrots and apples after testifying at the NRC in support of the baiting ban.
Since that time, Michigan’s CWD Surveillance and Response Plan was updated (in 2012) to be a little more surgical in its approach based on the situation at present. Accordingly, this time the CWD Management Zone spans only three counties (Ingham, Clinton, and Shiawassee) where baiting and feeding is appropriately banned. The CWD Core Area will now have unlimited antlerless deer licenses and all deer harvested must be checked and tested by the DNR in the Core Area, which encompasses 9 townships (Alaiedon, Delhi, Lansing, Meridian, Wheatfield and Williamstown townships in Ingham County; Bath and DeWitt townships in Clinton County; and Woodhull Township in Shiawassee County).
I live and hunt in this zone. The deer was killed in my old neighborhood in Meridian Township and I now live less than 3 miles away.
The minute I found out my mind, of course, was swirling—sadness, fear, and anger at however and whomever brought this to mid-Michigan. But, I have a science degree, and I know it’s important to stick with the facts and remain as rational as possible (my husband might say that wildlife management is the only place in my life where I really apply this rationality, but I digress). Here’s a few snippets of the thoughts and conversations around our dinner table in the last week:

  • Do we throw out all the venison from our freezer? No. There is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans.
  • Do we keep our toddler and dogs locked up inside? Again, no. No other species are known to contract CWD.
  • Will we hunt this year in the Core Area? Yes. The DNR needs all the deer they can to test and see how far and to what extent this disease has impacted the herd. We are also looking at getting the out of season landowner disease control permits to help in the effort.
  • Will we eat any deer we harvest in the Core Area? My head says yes, as long as they are confirmed CWD-negative. However, the practicality is that it depends. The testing may take 7-10 days and because we typically do all of our own processing, do you spend considerable time and effort doing that in hopes that the test is negative? Maybe not. We will be talking to the DNR about some ways to make it easier for hunters in the area to deal with this lag time and options for disposal for people that don’t want to consume it regardless of the test results. I am putting in my order for a quarter of beef now just in case recommendations or the circumstances change.
  • Do we buy into the conspiracy theories out there about how this came to Meridian Township? No! There are enough tinfoil hats and black helicopters out there. Let’s stick with the facts and not help rumors run rampant until something is confirmed.
  • Do we till under the wildlife food plots we JUST planted? This is a personal choice I suppose. While baiting and feeding is illegal in the CWD Management Zone, food plots are not. We will likely be more effective in helping the DNR harvest deer on our property if we have them, but they could congregate the deer and increase transmission to some extent. We have decided that since they are already planted, we might as well let them grow. With this being our first time, we aren’t really sure how they will do anyways. But we probably won’t be doing any extensive fertilization or replanting in the next couple of years until we know more.

I’d like to hear from other hunting families that live in the CWD Core Area. What are you thinking? What should we be asking the DNR? What other kinds of information do you want?
It continues to be a sad time for deer hunters in Mid-Michigan, but on the bright side, maybe it will free up a few more of my weekends for duck hunting.

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