On Tuesday, the DNR announced two deer in southeastern Minnesota have tested positive for CWD, a contagious, hard-to-eradicate disease that is always fatal to whitetail deer, wildlife officials announced Tuesday.
The Department of Natural Resources says a hunter shot the 1 1/2 -year-old buck last week in Clinton County’s Eagle Township and took it to a check station.
Preliminary tests came back positive for chronic wasting disease. A federal lab in Iowa is studying the carcass to see if the diagnosis was accurate. If so, this would be the ninth free-ranging deer in Michigan to test positive for the fatal disease.
DNR biologist Chad Fedewa says the find underscores the importance of taking deer killed during this month’s firearms hunting season to stations for examinations.
The checks are mandatory in the Core CWD Area, which includes 17 townships in Ingham, Clinton, Shiawassee and Eaton counties.
The discovery marks only the second time the disease has been found in wild deer in the state.
Hunters killed the two deer, both males, one mile from each other near Lanesboro during the the first segment of the firearms deer season, which ended Nov. 13 in much of the state, DNR officials said. A second test has confirmed the disease in one of the deer, and confirmation on the second deer is expected later this week.
No changes are expected before Jan. 1. Saturday marks the beginning of muzzleloader season — the state’s final firearms season for deer — and archery continues through year’s end.
But attempts for rapidly reducing deer numbers will likely come swiftly after that, Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s wildlife research manager, told reporters in a Tuesday conference call. Because CWD can be transmitted from deer to deer, it’s widely believed that one of the best ways to quash an outbreak is to prevent animals from coming into contact with each other — by reducing the density of animals in a given area.
“The window to eliminate a disease like CWD is very short,” Cornicelli said. When asked to what extent the deer density should be reduced, Cornicelli responded: “Our goal would be to reduce it as much as we can.”
The boundaries of such a containment area have yet to be determined.
According to the DNR, the two are the only deer to test positive from 2,493 samples collected from Nov. 5 to 13. Results are still pending from 373 additional test samples collected during the opening three days of the second firearms season, which ran Nov. 19 to 21.
Minnesota officials have prided themselves on having contained its only known incidences of CWD, while surrounding states, including Wisconsin, have experienced outbreaks. Minnesota was believed to be CWD-free, but detection of the disease in a bordering Iowa county triggered testing in southeastern Minnesota in 2014. It was that surveillance program that detected the two CWD-infected deer near Lanesboro, in an area known as deer hunting permit area 348.
It’s not clear how the deer became infected, but CWD is transmitted by prions that can remain viable in the environment for years. The deer could have contracted the disease from other deer, or the saliva of other deer, or from the environment itself.
CWD is a brain disease fatal to deer, elk and moose. It’s related to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as “mad cow disease,” in cattle, but CWD is not known to affect human health. While it is found in deer in states bordering southeastern Minnesota, it was found in only a single other wild deer in Minnesota in 2010. In 2012, it was detected in a captive red deer.
With soils rich in minerals hospitable to growing large antlers, southeastern Minnesota is a popular destination for deer hunters, who successfully lobbied several years ago to restrict hunting of bucks to mature males only. The so-called antler-point restrictions, while popular among hunters, will be lifted at the end of the year and probably for at least several years while deer numbers are suppressed.
Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said he thinks deer hunters will generally support the plan to tamp down deer numbers to prevent disease spread.
“I believe the average hunter is OK with an aggressive approach as long as it can be meaningful, and as long as the numbers of infected deer stay low, it can,” Engwall said.