Schafer: Much Ado About CWD

Over the years, we’ve all seen the headlines and heard the rhetoric that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) will wipeout entire statewide populations of whitetail deer. We’ve seen wildlife professionals resort to scare tactics and innuendo to close down wildlife commerce, introduce oppressive legislation, and shut off new hunting opportunities.

But, when it comes to CWD creating a ‘deerpocalypse’ in states like Michigan and elsewhere, it’s really been much ado about nothing.

Steve Griffin of the Midland Daily News recently wrote an interesting article (published Nov. 17, 2015) that compared state agency assessments of Michigan’s deer herd in 1965 with those of the current day. Griffin discovered 50-year-old documents issued by the Department of Conservation (now the Department of Natural Resources) issued a half-century ago, which assessed the 1964-1965 deer seasons, and the numbers shed the light of truth on the state’s deer population as it stands today.

According to Griffin, biologists estimated the state’s 1965 herd to be 800,000 animals, an improvement from the previous year. While the DNR does not currently estimate a total herd number, the last herd estimates showed twice as many deer than in 1965.

Griffin’s article also shows growing success for Michigan hunters over the past 50 years. In the 1964 archery season — which ran Oct. 1 through Nov. 5 — approximately 46,000 bowhunters took a record 2,800 deer. A success rate of 6.1 percent.

Last year, the Michigan DNR reported that about 320,000 archers harvested 110,000 deer, a success rate of about 34 percent. Firearm hunters were equally successful, setting a new record of participation with 565,000 hunters.

Griffin reported that the combined harvest for firearm- and bow-hunters in 1964 was 143,400 deer. Last year, Michigan hunters harvested an estimated 329,000 deer.

So, where is the scientific evidence of the CWD ‘deerpocalypse’? Where are the statistical facts to justify the hysteria that CWD is eradicating deer across the state?

The truth is it doesn’t exist, and Michigan deer are in no catastrophic danger from CWD.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife identified CWD in a wild elk in 1981, marking the first documented case of CWD in a wild cervid. If the massive contagion theory were true, CWD — as a highly infectious and uncontrollable disease unchecked in the wild — would have wiped out all the elk in Colorado. But, the fact is that today’s elk population is as robust and strong as ever.

According to the hunting harvests as reported in Griffin’s article, the same is true for the deer population in Michigan. The herd is thriving.

Of course, no one in the cervid industry belittles the significance of CWD. Quite the opposite is true. The cervid industry takes CWD, and all animal diseases, very seriously. The deer industry has worked closely with veterinarians as well as state and federal officials for decades. If fact, it was the deer industry itself which lobbied to establish the National CWD Herd Certification Program.

CWD is an animal disease, like EHD and Bluetongue, that must be managed with reasonable and proactive disease prevention protocols. But it’s not a harbinger of the deerpocalpse.

Leading the cervid industry for 32 years, the North American Deer Farmers Association is dedicated to the promotion of deer farming and ranching as an agricultural pursuit and serves its members through its educational programs and publications and by providing leadership in setting and maintaining quality standards. NADeFA represents the deer farming industry at all levels of government, and works closely with livestock producers and other organizations to promote ethical standards of conduct and husbandry in deer farming and to actively market standards for deer and deer products. In addition, NADeFA representatives routinely travel across the country to provide expert testimony and information about deer farming and cervid-related animal health issues, such as CWD, EHD and other topics.

Shawn Schafer, Executive Director
North American Deer Farmers Association