Michigan’s cattle industry needs the support of hunters in northeast Lower Michigan. It’s long been known that Michigan’s whitetail deer are a reservoir for bovine tuberculosis, passing the disease to cattle — it’s a 20-plus-year battle.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is asking hunters to donate their deer heads to gauge apparent prevalence of the disease. It is part of the memorandum of understanding between state and national agencies that allows much of Michigan to remain under the TB-free status, while the infected areas — Montmorency, Alpena, Oscoda and Alcona counties — and the seven counties surrounding them are subject to additional deer and cattle testing.
This “split-state” status allows for resources to be targeted in that area, but without it, whole-state cattle testing and restrictions on cattle movement could be imposed.
At least 2,800 deer heads must be submitted for testing in four core counties to be in MOU compliance. The surrounding counties have lower targets, and Emmet County has a 10-mile radius for collection. (see graphic).
MDNR is particularly concerned with this area because “apparent prevalence of bovine TB suggests a gradual increase in the core area,” says Emily Sewell, MDNR wildlife health specialist.
In each county where the goal is not met, whether by little or much, all cattle herds must be tested for TB over a three-year period. Testing will include all animals older than 12 months of age and any purchased animals, no matter the age. This is both costly to the state and a major inconvenience to the farmers, Sewell says.
The pandemic put a bit of damper on hunting last year, and the state did not meet its deer-testing quota, meaning it was out of compliance with the MOU. A second year of noncompliance could put the split-state status in jeopardy.
Hunter compliance in submitting deer heads will also assist in tracking TB in free-range deer influencing future management decisions.
Michigan’s bovine TB-free status was revoked in 2000, and the entire state of Michigan was designated as Modified Accredited. This resulted in extensive restrictions on animal movement.
The first bovine TB split-state status was granted to Michigan by USDA in April 2004, and it’s been a struggle for the state to maintain that status despite many producers implementing Wildlife Risk Mitigation Plans.
How hunters can help
In most cases, hunters will not see signs a deer is infected while field dressing, but that doesn’t mean it is not harboring the disease, Sewell says. “About 60% of the TB-infected deer tested by the DNR had no lesions in their bodies, and the lymph nodes in the head were needed to determine infection,” she says.
Hunters are urged to drop off deer heads at several staffed deer-check stations. The heads will not be returned, so if hunters want the antlers, they must be removed. “Staffed locations can help with antler removal,” Sewell says. “If a hunter wants a shoulder mount, he or she can ask their taxidermist to remove the antlers and return the skinned head for the hunter to submit.”
There are also 24-hour, hunter self-service drop boxes. “Hunters must remove the deer head before arriving at the drop box, taking care to make the cut at least 3 inches behind the deer’s jaw to ensure a proper sample for the lab,” she says. “The DNR always recommends wearing latex or rubber gloves when field-dressing your deer, especially when removing the head.”
All heads collected are brought to the MDNR’s Wildlife Disease Lab in Lansing. If an infected deer is detected, the hunter is notified.
“Hunters can also check their results by visiting the lab’s webpage and using the unique specimen number printed on the portion of the TB tag retained by the hunter when submitting the head,” Sewell says. “The DNR recommends hunters do not consume meat from an infected deer; they can be issued a free replacement tag [for an antlerless deer].”
The locations and information for all deer check stations and 24-hour self-service drop boxes can be found at Michigan.gov/DeerCheck.
The staffed stations are generally open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Nov. 15-30, but hunters should check the DNR website for specific details on each location.
Hunter contact information, location and date of harvest and sex of deer will be collected at drop-off.