Friday, September 19, 2008

MICHIGAN OPINION: Lessons from CWD Outbreak

Those things that hurt, instruct. - Ben Franklin

Although the dust is settling somewhat from the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease in a single Kent County deer, and the state began lifting quarantines on some deer farms this week, the end of the story is hardly in sight and there are likely to be important lessons along the way.

Those will surely include how one deer mysteriously turned up with this fatal neurological infection. Another is likely to be the need to increase funding for the captive cervid program in both the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture.

The state legislature chose to sanction the development of a deer livestock industry in 1990, but it has been negligent about ponying up the needed funds for the regulatory program that goes with it.

"The law went into effect in 2000 but the program has been unfunded," said Bridget Patrick, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Patrick is referring to PA 190, of 2000 which called for the creation of a deer livestock industry in Michigan under the Department of Agriculture. It also took the old captive deer permit program away from the DNR. MDA was to monitor and enforce animal health standards on deer and elk breeding farms. The DNR would license the facilities and physical plant.

DNR staff say less than a dozen of the facilities and fences are out of compliance today. But a 2005 audit of the captive cervid industry found that 37 percent of the breeding facilities did not comply with the rules for the industry. MDA officials today say that 240 still are not in full compliance.

Some of those are serious offenses. Some are not, but a 37 percent non-compliance rate is far too high for comfort.

MDA lifted quarantines on 11 deer farms this week. They were the best of the best in terms of meeting state rules. Another 50, or so, are expected to get the nod in the next few weeks.

That leaves more than 500 others still in quarantine. A third group may take longer, according to Steve Halstead, the state veterinarian with MDA. Much will depend on how far and wide the investigation goes.

And then there is a fourth group.

"These are the bad actors," Halstead said. "They are not in compliance, don't know their inventories, have not gotten the proper inspections and have been outside the program entirely. For them it could be a year or more."

Call it the price of non-compliance.

MDA officials acknowledge that they are shorthanded. More diseases are popping up than they are prepared to handle.

"We don't have funding for all we need to do," said Nancy Frank, the assistant state veterinarian with MDA. "We are also dealing with TB, pseudorabis and feral swine.

"If it was only CWD and feral swine, we could handle that," Frank said. "But we were not designed to handle all the diseases at one time."

The result is MDA staff are now spread thin. Staff working on pseudorabis and swine have been shifted to handle CWD, she said.

The Michigan DNR is also biting the bullet. Their part of the captive cervid program costs the agency approximately $360,000 a year, according to Shannon Hannah, a wildlife biologist who oversees the captive cervid program.

The program collected $164,000 total in license fees from the breeders this year. That is considerably less than half of what it costs to administer the program between the two agencies.

Another $158,000 was appropriate from the General Fund. The balance was drawn from the Fish and Game Fund, money paid by hunters and anglers, justified as money to protect the wild deer herd.

Hannah, the sole staff dedicated to the program, says she spends more time in court dealing with non-compliant deer breeders than she does out in the field. She relies on field biologists and conservation officers do a lot of the leg work inspecting facilities.

"One by one we are getting there, but it takes awhile to get through 600 facilities," Hannah said. "We are just giving them ultimatums: 'Fix the fence and get the animals tested or you're done."

The alternative, is, of course, unacceptable. Non-compliance puts a $500 million economic boost at risk with deer hunting. That says nothing of the $50 million deer breeding industry.

MDA and MDNR have both reacted admirably in the face of the CWD crisis. Both have done commendable jobs. But neither is adequately funded for the work on an ongoing basis.

That's something the Michigan legislature needs to take to heart.

Source: MLive

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MICHIGAN NEWS: State Lawmakers To Reverse Deer Baiting Ban

I think I've seen this movie before. It has a bad ending. -TR

A trio of state lawmakers called on DNR Director Rebecca Humphries to rescind a ban on deer baiting in the Lower Peninsula that was enacted in response to an outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease on a game farm in Kent County.

State Reps. Jeff Mayes, D-Bay City, and Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, along with state Sen. James Barcia, D-Bay City, said the economic impact on the growers of bait crops could be devastating, and that reductions in the deer harvest by hunters who stay home rather than go into the field without bait could actually contribute to the spread of the disease (as larger herds congregate).

The Natural Resources Commission put the ban in place last month, citing the danger of the disease spreading among animals gathering over bait piles. But it has been hugely unpopular with many hunters and among farmers who depend on the sale of bait crops like carrots and sugar beets.

The lawmakers said they hope to have the resolutions taken up next week in the House and Senate. But it was not immediately clear what their impact would be because of questions over what authority the Legislature has to dictate policy on natural resources issues.

DNR spokeswoman Mary Detloff issued the following statement at mid-day today in response to the proposed resolutions:

“Two diseases have been found in Michigan deer that were not here historically. Those diseases (bovine tuberculosis and CWD) can be spread among deer by close contact with other deer through their saliva, nasal secretions, or (in the case of CWD) droppings. Concentrating deer activity at bait sites increases the likelihood that diseases will be passed from deer to deer.

"The DNR doubts that most people would say 'yes' to the question: Are you willing to risk causing Michigan's deer herd to be sick from chronic disease from this day forward just so that you can use bait?

"We firmly believe hunters want to pass a healthy deer herd on to the next generation. That is why it is important to stop baiting. Deer hunting generates a $500-million economic impact to the state each year, and a disease like CWD poses a grave threat to that if it is in the wild deer population. The impact of CWD in the wild herd would hurt many small businesses around the state -- many of whom do not sell bait.”

Source: Detroit Free Press

TEXAS NEWS: Drought, Sprawl Exacerbate Deer Conflicts

Drought and urban growth continue to contribute to increasing human-deer conflict throughout the state, according to wildlife researchers and specialists.

But while the interaction can be a nuisance and even pose potential hazards, experts say there are ways to help limit contact.

“Drought conditions have forced a lot of deer out of their normal habitat and comfort zone into green spaces we humans have created for ourselves,” said Jim Gallagher, Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde. "Conversely, communities have been expanding into formerly wild or undeveloped areas, also increasing the possibility of contact."

While “aggressive” attacks by deer rarely occur, threats to human life or financial loss continue as a result of deer-vehicle collisions and damage to crops or ornamental plants.

"Human-wildlife conflict occurs throughout the state, but people only tend to hear about it when it affects a significant number of people in a larger metropolitan area,” Gallagher said.

Some of the more notable incidents in recent years have occurred in the residential areas of Lakeway and Horseshoe Bay near Austin, Hollywood Park near San Antonio, and Sun City in the Georgetown area.

“More recently, we’ve seen increased deer-human conflict occurring in the Walden area of Conroe and residential areas around Lake Livingston,” said Dr. Clark Adams, a professor in the wildlife and fisheries sciences department of Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Although it’s a general and reductionist way of putting it, wherever there is outward human expansion, particularly in metropolitan areas of Texas, it’s inevitable that people will encounter white-tail deer,” Adams said.

Interactions between humans and deer have become much more prevalent in the Texas Hill Country, noted Dr. Susan Cooper, a Texas AgriLife Research scientist at the Uvalde center.Cooper has led several research projects aimed at understanding deer in their natural habitat and as part of the human-wildlife dynamic. Her research has included work on the supplemental feeding of deer, how deer interact with the landscape and improving deer management on rangeland. Most recently, she completed a general survey of increasing deer-human interaction in the Texas Hill Country.

The Hill Country is home to about 1.5 million white-tailed deer, and they are overabundant from both a human or biological perspective, she said. In addition, about a half-million people have moved into the Hill Country in the last six years.

Deer are attracted to residential areas because they provide safety from natural predators and hunters, and the irrigated and fertilized landscaping provides an abundant, accessible, high-quality food source.

“But the tolerance for deer and other wildlife tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of damage or inconvenience they cause,” she said. “This seems to be true even in areas where people move to be closer to nature or where there’s a good amount of eco-tourism. It’s one thing to watch deer, but quite another when they start eating your plants or cause you to have a car accident.”

Deer-vehicle accidents cause more than $1 billion in damage annually, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Institute data also shows 3 of 4 vehicle-wildlife accidents involve deer.

Additionally, the annual cost of ornamental landscape plants damaged by deer throughout the U.S. is estimated at more than $250 million.

“If deer don’t have sufficient food or water in their normal habitat or have too much competition, roadsides and residential areas can be an attractive alternative,” Cooper said.

Cooper and Gallagher said deer damage prevention and control methods range from exclusion, “cultural” methods, frightening and repellents to trapping, contraception and shooting.

Exclusion refers to keeping deer away by using a fence or individual wire or plastic protectors for trees, plants or shrubs deer are known to eat.

Cultural methods include planting deer-resistant trees and shrubs, and harvesting crops early to reduce exposure to deer and other wildlife.

Air horns, gas exploders and pyrotechnics are sometimes used to frighten deer. There are also a number of commercially available repellents that work through smell or direct application to plants or bushes.

“Where deer populations need to be reduced, public sentiment usually favors some type of non-lethal control,” Cooper said. “But immunocontraception is currently in the experimental phase and is not yet legally approved, plus it’s difficult and expensive. And many deer die within a year after being trapped and relocated.”

Though community-wide efforts are generally the most effective solution to human-wildlife issues, people are often divided in their opinions on how to manage deer, said Kevin Schwausch, big game program specialist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“TPWD provides technical assistance to people in suburban areas who have deer issues and provides guidance,” he said. “But it’s best if people in affected communities work together and form a committee to make sure they’re going in the same direction before taking deer management actions.”

Schwausch said although it seems obvious, one of the first and most useful steps people in suburban communities can take to reduce deer activity is not to feed them.

Gallagher noted that while some deterrents may work at first, their effectiveness may not be consistent, especially if the deer become very hungry.

“Putting up fencing, keeping a dog outside and placing iron or plastic guards around expensive ornamental plants, trees or bushes are among the most effective non-lethal means,” he said. “Of course, it would be best to put up fencing before the deer find out what kind of a ‘buffet’ your landscape provides for them.”

Cooper said even if deer numbers are reduced, follow-up management is needed to ensure their population will not increase as their food supply increases.

More information on deer damage prevention and control can be found at .

Source: Blanco County News

Monday, September 15, 2008

NORTH CAROLINA NEWS: Duke Forest Deer Targeted

When designated hunters begin hunting deer in Duke University's Duke Forest, white deer will be off limits, said the forest's resource manager.

Hunters with bows were able to begin hunting in four of the six forest divisions Monday. But Judson Edeburn, the Duke Forest resource manager, told The News & Observer of Raleigh that the hunters are under instructions not to take any white deer.

Multiple white deer have been sighted around Duke Forest, a 7,000-acre research property in Durham, Orange and Alamance counties. Some hunters say protecting the albino deer allows a recessive trait to continue.

But Edeburn is aware of the role that white animals have in spiritual and historic legends. "The bottom line is the hunters are under instruction not to take the white deer," he said.

WRAL-TV reports that researchers estimate there are as many 80 white-tail deer per square mile in parts of the forests. That's more than four times the recommended number.

"We've made the decision that we need to try to control the deer herd to some extent," Edeburn said.

The deer eat just about everything in their path, affecting not just the habitat for other animals but also regeneration of the forest, officials said.

"The forest is essentially dying, because the deer are overrunning it," Duke researcher Jeff Pippen said.

Four of the forest's six sections - Blackwood, Durham, Eno and Hillsboro - will be open to hunting Monday through Thursday until Dec. 30 to those designated hunters. No public hunting is allowed.

There's also no hunting Friday through Sunday or on holidays.

Although they believe the hunt is necessary, forest officials say they understand some people are upset.

"This has taken years, on our part, and it's a difficult decision, because we know it affects a lot of people. But we've done it with a lot of thought, with a lot of input," Edeburn said.

Source: Myrtle Beach Sun News