Consensus was reached earlier this week on long-awaited action to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Michigan’s deer herd.
Thursday, the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) approved a series of hunting regulations targeted at reducing the spread of CWD in Michigan.
Since May 2015, CWD has been confirmed in 60 free-ranging deer in six Michigan counties: Clinton, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent and Montcalm.
CWD is a fatal neurological (brain and nervous system found in cervids. The disease attacks the brains and infected animals and producers small lesions that result in death.
According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the regulations that take effect for this fall’s deer hunting season (except where noted otherwise) include:
- 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.
One of the most significant changes approved by the NRC was action to ban baiting and feeding in the Lower Peninsula starting in 2019, said Andrew Vermeesch, a Michigan Farm Bureau state lobbyist who works with wildlife issues. This will not only assist in combating CWD, but reduce transmission of other diseases such as TB, he said.
“The decision to ban feeding and baiting was based on the best available science, which was a strong recommendation that came from the Chronic Waste Disease Workgroup and is consistent with MFB policy that has, for a long time, called for decisions to allow baiting and feeding to be based on veterinary and animal health science,” Vermeesch said.
“I think it’s fair to assume that we don’t always know the true spread of CWD or TB,” he said. “We know that baiting itself does not cause the diseases, but baiting does increase the frequency of direct contact and encourage concentration of animals, thereby allowing diseases to spread more rapidly throughout the population.”
If not for the threat of disease, the action by the NRC might not be necessary, but something had to be done, Vermeesch said. NRC chairperson Vicki Pontz agreed.
“We hope that by setting these specific CWD regulations, we can limit the movement of this disease in Michigan,” she said. “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.”
Another reason Farm Bureau supports the new regulation is simple clarity, Vermeesch said.
“Enacting patchwork regulations such as the ban on baiting and feeding that vary from location to location is essentially a moving target,” he said. “That only adds confusion and more frustration as hunters and farmers alike question its rationale. Enacting a complete Lower Peninsula baiting and feeding ban will give the state one more tool to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission in our wildlife.”