Lansing – The Department of Natural Resources will be doing heavy surveillance of deer and other animals in an attempt to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease in southwest Michigan.

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved new deer hunting regulations Thursday aimed at halting the spread of the fatal neurological disease among deer that threatens the $2.3 billion hunting industry.

Chronic wasting disease affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose. More than 31,000 deer in Michigan have been tested for the disease, which has been confirmed in 60 free-ranging deer in Clinton, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent and Montcalm counties since May 2015.

The disease is spread through saliva and other body fluids of infected animals.

The new regulations came after months input from hunters, residents and others.

Montcalm County has the most cases of chronic wasting disease and the Department of Natural Resources plans on heavily surveilling to identify key factors, said deer biologist Chad Stewart.

“Within Michigan, our surveillance has been limited to the southwest region where we know it exists, but we are going to continue to monitor around there to see if we can identify the margins around the disease and minimize as much as possible,” Stewart said.

Most of the rules will be in effect for the 2018 deer season, which begins in September. They include limits on urine-based lures for deer; a ban on baiting and feeding in an expanded 16-county Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone; restrictions on deer carcass movement in some counties; and expanded deer hunting in the zone.

Gavin Schmitz, from Hesperia in west Michigan, isn’t a fan of the new regulations, which allow hunters to harvest up to 10 deer. But there should be no baiting, said Schmitz, who has been hunting since the age of 12.

“That’s absurd. No hunter needs that many deer and frankly the DNR only cares that we kill every single deer in hopes of stopping CWD,” said Schmitz, 19.

Stewart said chronic wasting disease has been an ongoing issue infecting the state’s white-tailed deer. But it’s not rare. He said 25 states have identified chronic wasting disease.

“So much of the rest of the state still has an unknown status, but it’s certainly possible it has spread to other counties because so many times when you find CWD, it isn’t likely the first case. We feel it’s important to find it earlier,” said Stewart.

Christopher Dick, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, said the additional hunting will better enable the DNR to track disease prevalence.

“In my opinion it is essential to act now to keep CWD from spreading, as it already has in Wisconsin and other states. If it arrives in a particular locality, I believe that DNR has no choice but to perform a complete cull (of all the deer) to keep it from spreading,” said Dick, who is director of the university’s E.S. George Reserve. “If the deer in the CWD areas are not removed many more deer will suffer in the long run, and CWD as you know is untreatable, a terrible way to die, and it will mean no deer and no hunting at all for a long time.”

Full-time farmer and hunter Raymond Simpkins from Sand Creek in Lenawee County said the disease concerns him due to the effects it could have on humans and livestock.

“As a farmer, we went through this with (tuberculosis) and it cost Michigan farmers millions and some their total livelihoods,” said Simpkins, 59. “I think it is best to take the necessary steps now to try and control this before it becomes an outbreak like the TB did.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it may take more than a year before an infected deer develops symptoms. The CDC recommends that hunters consider having those animals tested before eating the meat.

The DNR also plans to implement experimental antler point restrictions this season in the core area around Ionia, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm and Newaygo counties. Antlerless options on deer licenses during firearm seasons will be introduced in 2019.

srahal@detroitnews.com

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