Fifty deer taken by sharpshooters near a Mecosta County farm where Chronic Wasting Disease was discovered have tested negative for the deadly neurological disorder.
“Every animal that has been tested so far has been clean, which is what we want,’’ said Chad Stewart, a deer specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Shooters contracted through the U.S. Department of Agriculture took the deer from private property last month after receiving permission from landowners, he said. The kill zone was within a two-mile radius of a private deer farm where the disease was detected.
The state is also testing about 40 road-killed deer from a nine-township area of southern Mecosta and northern Montcalm counties. Of those already tested, none have shown signs of CWD, Stewart said. Another two dozen deer taken during the 2016 hunting season were tested and came back clean, he said.
“It’s more of a marathon than a sprint,’’ Stewart said. “We’re looking to see if the disease is occurring outside of the farm where it was first detected.’’
The state hopes to test up to 3,000 deer in the next year or so to see if the disease has spread into the wild.
CWD is a neurological disease that attacks the brains of affected animals, eventually leading to death. It is commonly spread by contact with other infected deer. Nose-to-nose contact between infected animals in a pen and wild deer is a concern for state wildlife biologists.
CWD was confirmed at a Kent County deer farm in 2008. Exhaustive tests of deer harvested near the farm did not show that it had spread to the general deer population; state-imposed restrictions eventually were lifted.
Since then, it has been found in free-ranging deer in Ingham and Clinton counties.
Tests conducted in January on deer provided by a Mecosta County farm confirmed the presence of CWD. The state created a CWD surveillance area in nine townships near the deer farm. They are Mecosta, Austin, Morton, Hinton, Aetna and Deerfield townships in southern Mecosta County and Cato, Winfield and Reynolds townships in northern Montcalm County.
Stewart said hunters will play a major role in the surveillance program, starting with the archery season that begins in October and the hugely popular firearm deer season that begins Nov. 15.
Mandatory check stations are planned in the area so deer taken during the fall hunting season can be tested. “It really is a partnership with hunters,’’ he said.
The state last month held two public meetings in Mecosta County to discuss CWD and efforts to keep it from spreading.