MICHIGAN: Get the Facts Straight on CWD

Jill Fritz with the Humane Society of the United States recently voiced her opinions about the privately owned deer ranches and their role regarding chronic wasting disease in Michigan. While I respect each person’s right to voice their opinion, I take issue with nearly every aspect of her editorial. The best course of action to prevent further spread of CWD in Michigan clearly must be based on facts and science. Let’s take a look at the bullet points from Ms. Fritz’ viewpoint and see if they are science based, or simply fear-mongering meant to advance the anti-hunting agenda of HSUS.

• CWD is spread through prions that can be transmitted through saliva, urine and other bodily fluids.
This is true; however, it is only part of the story. We know that CWD is also transmitted by carcasses of infected animals. A single infected carcass brought into our state from a deer hunted in a CWD area can cause a new CWD endemic area. This appears to be what happened in the Meridian Township case. We also have learned that plants can uptake prions from the soil and hold them in plant material. Think a minute about how much alfalfa is shipped from state to state with no regulations. It is also considered likely that carrion birds spread the prions. Once the soil is contaminated, the environment is infective for a long time.

• Much more needs to be done to stop the disease from arriving in entirely new areas.
We can all agree on that statement. The first thing that would need to be done is to test many more animals. It is entirely likely that CWD is already in other areas. If you don’t test for it you do not know where it is. While the wild herd is rarely tested, the private herd is required to be tested extensively. A deer farm in the CWD program is required to test 100% of their death loss of deer over one year old. Hunting preserves test 25% of all animals taken. We know the least likely place to have an unknown CWD case is a deer farm or preserve due to this high level of testing.

• There is no live test for CWD.
This statement is not true. There is a rectal biopsy test that has been recently validated.

•Wolves prey on sick deer and act as a firewall against the spread of CWD from other states.
Wolves prey on all deer. Saskatchewan Canada has always had a considerable wolf population. Saskatchewan, also, has one of the highest levels of CWD on the planet.

• We need to make sure CWD doesn’t enter our state in the back of someone’s truck en-route to stock a hunt.

Ms. Fritz seems to be unaware that it is already illegal to import bucks to stock preserves in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development have already put in place protocols which are more strict than those recommended by the USDA. The combined expertise, of these agencies, has determined that, with these regulations in place, deer farms are not a threat to spread CWD.

The real key to fighting any disease is knowledge. If there is a future more positive for our deer populations, that future will depend on research and knowledge. Deer farmers and preserve owners are the only group among all the CWD stakeholders that has come together to fund research into CWD. This research is beginning to pay dividends. The live test is one result of that research. A genetic component within the deer herd which is more resistant to CWD has also been discovered. Deer farmers already have the ability to identify that genetic group and I am certain they will be breeding a more resistant herd in the near future. With her editorial Jill Fritz attempts to hijack a critical issue to advance an anti-hunting agenda. I see no real substance in her editorial that helps our efforts to keep Michigan’s deer healthy.

— Kent Syers, President
United Deer Farmers of Michigan