Hunters’ help needed to pin down deer disease

EUREKA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — One of our state’s biggest holidays is just two days away: The start of regular firearm deer hunting season is Wednesday.

This year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is hoping hunters will help the state gather important information about chronic wasting disease, a contagious illness that causes neurological degeneration and then death in deer.

“It’s kind of new to Michigan. We’ve been trying to stay out of it, but it came up a couple years ago. Last year, (it was) really in the Lansing, Montcalm County area,” John Niewoonder of the DNR said.

It’s not mandatory for hunters in all areas of the state to check their deer at a DNR check station, but officials hope they will this year.

“We really need hunters to participate, help us out to help us get enough samples so we can test enough deer to find out where the disease is,” Niewoonder said.

Samples of brain tissue from each deer brought to a check station will be sent to a lab at Michigan State University, with results posted online within five to seven days.

When officials know where chronic wasting disease is, they can figure out how to address it.

“This is something other states have dealt with. We’ve learned a lot with how other states have tried to deal with it and some have done better than others,” Niewoonder said.

Things like permits for antlerless deer and sharpshooting can help control the herd and slow the spread.

Another tool to attack the problem: information. The DNR is working hard to get the word out to hunters online and at check stations.

“While it’s at a pretty low rate, the prevalence rate is pretty low, we need to find out where it is and just how many deer have it so we can figure out how to address it,” Niewoonder said.