Speculation grows over possible Michigan deer baiting ban


Mar 11, 2001
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Baiting ban may result from threat to deer herd

By SCOTT BRAND/The Sault Ste. Marie Evening News

SAULT STE. MARIE -- Some tough decisions could be coming from the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) as that body reacts to the presence of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the Wisconsin deer herd.

While nothing has been written in stone to date, there is some speculation the NRC could go so far as to eliminate all supplemental feeding and even ban baiting outright in response to this newest, and largest threat to deer.

"We hope that we can reduce the chances that it is going to spread into Michigan," said Wildlife Biologist Rex Ainslie. "The last thing we want in Michigan, as far as the deer herd is concerned, is Chronic Wasting Disease and it's only 300 miles away."

Unlike most other known ailments, CWD is not transmitted by a living mechanism. Parasites, bacteria and viruses are susceptible to a variety of weapons, but the prions involved in the spread of CWD are seemingly indestructible.

"It's not a living organism," said Ainslie. "They are not destroyed by cooking, formaldehyde, alcohol or ultra-violet light."

The prions, according to published accounts, are likely ingested by the animal where they come in contact with healthy prions and somehow convert them into a destructive form. The transformation continues until the infected animal develops spongelike holes throughout its brain tissue. In the initial stages, the animal may show no signs of CWD. However, as the malady progresses, droopy ears, excessive salivation and irreversible weight loss are displayed; eventually ending in death.

The disease was first discovered in the late 1960s in Colorado, and has been found in wild deer and elk in Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. The disease has also been recorded in captive herds in Montana, Kansas and Oklahoma here in the United States, with other incidents occurring north of the border in two western Canadian provinces. Biologists had believed the Mississippi River would serve as a natural barrier, preventing the spread of CWD into eastern deer herds.

The discovery of an infected animal in Wisconsin last fall has changed that thinking. Subsequent testing revealed that 11 of 516 deer taken by sharpshooters in southwestern Wisconsin had the disease. Because higher Midwest deer population promotes more animal-to-animal contact, some fear CWD will spread like wildfire from its new foothold.

Ainslie described the potential feeding bans as "preventative medicine," saying it would play a dual role in combating the disease. It would eliminate artificially high deer populations, while also making it easier to manage the deer that remain. CWD, it is believed, can be spread by many of the same mechanisms that promote Bovine TB.

"I think this threat is a lot worse," said Ainslie, fearing the potential impact of CWD.

So far, there is absolutely no evidence that humans have contracted CWD from consuming or being in contact with deer or elk. The World Health Organization, according to published accounts, is telling all hunters to refrain from eating the eyes, brain, spleen, lymph nodes and spinal cord tissue of any deer. It is also instructing hunters not to eat any part of a CWD-infected animal.

The NRC meets Thursday and Friday in East Tawas, with Chronic Wasting Disease a likely topic of discussion.

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