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Michigan CWD symposium brings together experts

Wildlife scientists and other experts from across the country gathered last week in East Lansing, Michigan, for the state’s Chronic Wasting Disease Symposium – an opportunity to share ideas and focus on finding solutions for containing CWD, a fatal neurological disease that first emerged in Michigan’s free-ranging, white-tailed deer population in 2015.

Hosted Oct. 3-4 by the Michigan departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture and Rural Development, along with the Michigan Natural Resources Commission and the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, the two-day workshop brought together approximately 200 individuals from a variety of backgrounds.

“There was an impressive list of experts who are internationally known for their research on chronic wasting disease,” stated Dr. Kelly Straka, DNR wildlife veterinarian. “There were representatives from several universities, including Georgia, Colorado State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Midwestern and Michigan State.”

In addition, the symposium welcomed speakers from state agencies representing Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming, and, as well as several nongovernmental and government agencies including the Quality Deer Management Association, the North American Deer Farmers Association, the United States Geological Survey and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Presentations covered topics including:

The first five decades of CWD evolution.
Disease transmission and pathogenesis (how it developed).
Maternal transmission and species susceptibility.
Transmission by saliva, feces, urine and blood.
Plant uptake and antemortem testing.
Social impacts of the disease.
The role of genetic influences.
The importance of applied research.
Perspective on captive cervid communities.
CWD management in various states.

Several members of Michigan’s recently formed CWD workgroup (with representation from both the Natural Resources Commission and the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development) were on hand to hear and consider the latest CWD information being shared.

The CWD workgroup was created to advise the NRC, the DNR and other applicable agencies on further steps and actions that could be implemented to substantially mitigate or eliminate chronic wasting disease in Michigan. The group held its first meeting Oct. 5 and is set to deliver recommendations to the NRC and the DNR by Dec. 31, 2017. Upon receipt of those recommendations, the NRC and the DNR will develop an appropriate process for public review and feedback.

“We want to sincerely thank everyone who took the time to share their wisdom, experience and strategies for better understanding and battling chronic wasting disease,” said Dr. Straka. “Michigan is committed to doing everything possible to stop this serious wildlife disease from causing long-term harm to our state’s vital deer population. This symposium was one of the first events to gather both research and management experts under one roof, and that’s a tremendous step forward.”

CWD is a contagious neurological disease affecting members of the cervid family, including deer, elk and moose. It attacks the central nervous system of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior and loss of bodily functions. There is no recovery; the disease always results in death of the animal.

In 2015, Michigan’s first free-ranging CWD positive deer was found. Since the discovery of that first animal, the DNR has sampled more than 14,000 free-ranging deer from around the state. A total of 10 of those animals have tested positive for CWD.

Sessions that were live-streamed from the CWD Symposium will be available in November on the Michigan DNR’s YouTube channel once the two-day event has been edited and closed-captioned. Links to individual sessions will be posted on www.michigan.gov/cwd.