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Ohio, Michigan deer herds avoid chronic wasting disease curse

06/20/2014, 12:00am EDT
By MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR
Ohio, Michigan deer avoid health hazards

The news is good concerning the long-term outlook for the health of the Ohio and Michigan deer herds.

In the Buckeye State, for the 12th straight year, extensive testing for chronic wasting disease (CWD) found no evidence of the degenerative brain malady that affects white-tailed deer, as well as elk, moose, and mule deer. In Michigan, no additional cases have been identified since one deer in a private facility was found with the state’s first confirmed case of CWD in 2008 in Kent county.

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Tissue samples were collected from more than 750 deer by state and federal agriculture and wildlife officials in Ohio. The samples were gathered from last September through March from road-killed deer. Biologists also examined tissue matter from 88 mature bucks that were harvested by hunters, and another nine deer that had exhibited symptoms somewhat consistent with CWD.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) conducted the testing. CWD, a neurological disorder that produces small lesions in the brains of infected animals, has never been found in Ohio. The disease is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and can be transmitted from one animal to another.

CWD is often characterized by a marked loss of weight and body condition over a short period of time, excessive saliva and difficulty swallowing, along with behavioral changes and abnormalities. Head tremors are also observed in some afflicted animals. Most animals with CWD die within a few months. There is no evidence that CWD can infect humans.

The disease was first identified in captive mule deer in Colorado nearly 50 years ago. It was detected in the wild in 1981, in Colorado elk. Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia have deer management zones to closely monitor areas where deer with CWD have been found. The disease has been found in commercial game farms in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, as well as in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

In Michigan, no cases have been found in the wild deer herd, and Michigan has had a detailed CWD response plan in place for more than a decade, in the event other cases are located.

LEAVE YOUNG ALONE: The Michigan DNR has issued a reminder that it is always best to avoid close contact with the young of wildlife that might be encountered on walks in the woods, camping trips, or other excursions in the outdoors.

“Please resist the urge to try to help seemingly abandoned fawns or other baby animals,” MDNR wildlife biologist Steve Griffith said. “Some people truly are trying to be helpful, while others think wild animals would make good pets. In most cases, neither of those situations ends well for the wildlife. The animals are better off left alone.”

Griffith stressed that white-tailed fawns are often mistakenly thought to have been stranded, since they can be left unattended for long periods of time, and might appear to be abandoned.

“Deer seem so vulnerable and helpless, but really they stay still because that is a mechanism to let them be undetected,” he said. By being absent, the mother is utilizing a protective mechanism, keeping her scent from attracting predators near the fawn.

SPRING TURKEY HUNTING: Spring wild turkey hunters harvested 16,556 birds during the combined 2014 wild turkey hunting season and the youth wild turkey hunting season in Ohio, which ran from April 19-May 18. That compared to the 18,391 birds that were harvested in the 2013 spring season. Ohio’s top counties for wild turkey harvest this spring were: Ashtabula (615 birds), Tuscarawas (493), Coshocton (484), Guernsey (466), Muskingum (453), Belmont (444), Monroe (424), Trumbull (417), Knox (415) and Meigs (397).

In the northwest part of the state, the spring wild turkey harvest numbers by county (with the 2013 harvest figures in parentheses) were: Allen: 48 (43); Crawford: 72 (93); Defiance: 208 (205); Erie: 51 (62); Fulton: 99 (102); Hancock: 29 (34); Hardin: 76 (82); Henry: 31 (51); Lucas: 50 (61); Ottawa: 6 (5); Paulding: 87 (91); Putnam: 71 (61); Sandusky: 21 (25); Seneca: 140 (154); Van Wert: 17 (17); Williams: 239 (253); Wood: 28 (30); and Wyandot: 80 (114).

Michigan conducts an extensive mail survey following the spring wild turkey season, and the results of that survey will not be available until later in the year.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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