Solutions, not blame needed on CWD

A few weeks ago, the first known deer with a positive test for chronic wasting disease was identified at a deer farm in Kent County. Since the discovery of the positive test, all of the remaining deer in the herd have been depopulated and have all tested negative for CWD.

The deer farm industry in Michigan is pleased to see that the process of lifting the statewide quarantine on deer farms has begun. But only 12 farms have been cleared so far, which means there are more than 590 farms to go.

In addition to the problems surrounding the quarantine process, the deer farm industry does have some other very serious concerns about how this crisis has been handled.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has not been proactive in promoting the negative test results. There is little doubt the department would have been very public had there been another positive test. It makes one wonder why the department has been so reluctant to publicly address the negative test results and exonerate Michigan's deer farmers.

The department's communication with producers has also been inconsistent and unclear. It took more than one week for the department to communicate to producers what their rights were under the quarantine and no clear timetable has been set for lifting the quarantine despite the negative test results.

In addition, many deer producers remain under 24/7 surveillance and have reported government agents trespassing on their properties and trampling on their rights as honest citizens. In light of the negative test results, the constant surveillance hardly seems necessary and yet Michigan's deer farmers remain under the watchful eye of Big Brother.

The deer farm industry is asking the department to issue an official communication about the negative test results, to allow ranchers to offer hunts as long as operators submit all deer heads for testing, to allow deer farms with low risk to return to business and to end the 24/7 surveillance of private citizens.

The department should also allow hunters to use traditional hunting methods during the upcoming hunting season. The crisis has been addressed and has been contained. An apparent isolated case of CWD should not overshadow the upcoming hunting season.

Finally we are asking the department to work with us to develop better and more accurate testing methods and to find the cause of CWD. The recent incident certainly challenges conventional wisdom about CWD and gives credence to the argument that CWD could happen spontaneously. Clearly more research is needed for a "live" CWD test as well as determining to what extent current testing procedures yield false positives.

Deer farming, as a regulated alternative livestock industry, is a $1 billion industry in Michigan. At a time when Michigan's economic struggles continue to make national headlines, it does not make any sense to needlessly bring down an industry so vital to the state's economy and yet this is what many are trying to do.

Instead of pointing fingers, we are working on finding answers because preserving Michigan's wildlife is the deer industry's highest priority.

About the author: Shawn Schafer has served as the executive director of the North American Deer Farmers Association, an organization dedicated to the promotion of deer farming and ranching as an agricultural pursuit, since May 2007. Schafer has been a deer farmer for 10 years and is the current president of the North Dakota Deer Ranchers. He lives in Turtle Lake, N. D.