DNR Tuberculosis Monitoring Explained

declining deer herd

The DNR, wildlife lovers and deer hunters have been railing against captive deer herds in Indiana for years. A few object to deer and elk farms strictly from the idea these animals belong in the wild, not in cages or corrals, others for other reasons.

I, personally, was ambivalent to the practice for many years. All animals were once “wild” beasts that somewhere along the line became domesticated.

I was ambivalent until the prion causing the disease scrapies in sheep and goats mutated to become what is known as Chronic Wasting Disease in whitetail deer. Worse, there’s a direct correlation between the increase in deer farms across the country and the spread of CWD in wild deer populations from a single source in Colorado to 23 states.

With known, always fatal, infestations of CWD proven in Illinois and Michigan, Indiana DNR has been proactively monitoring for the disease in Hoosier whitetails for over a decade. Luckily, our deer herd has thus far, not been affected.

But while the DNR “disease-watchers” struggled to keep tabs on a potential CWD outbreak, another disease snuck in the back door. It’s called Bovine Tuberculosis – often abbreviated bTB.

The first confirmed presence of bTB came from a sick captive deer on a deer farm in Franklin County in east central Indiana so, again, fingers are pointing to a captive deer facility as the probable entry point for the disease into Indiana – most likely a sick deer from a Michigan deer farm was illegally was brought here from across the border.

bTB in wild deer has been a problem for years in several counties in Michigan and there are several deer farms in the affected area. It’s common practice for captive deer to be bought, sold and traded between deer farms for a variety of reasons both legally and on the black market.

Unlike CWD which only affects deer, bTB can spread to cattle (thus the term bovine in it’s name), sheep, goats and other mammals including humans. Several individual cases of bTB were reported in cattle near the infected deer farm in Franklin County and cattle on two different farms were infected earlier this year.

As a result, wild animals including deer were culled and tested for bTB and in early August and a wild whitetail tested positive. On a cattle farm, the presence of a single infected bTB animal is cause to “depopulate” the facility. That’s a fancy way of saying all the cattle are killed.

That can’t be done in a wild deer population. The only option is to monitor – and if and when the disease hits a threshold level, try to drastically cut the deer population in that area.

The DNR’s Division of Fish & Wildlife has announced plans to establish management and surveillance zones in three east central Indiana counties (Franklin, Dearborn and Fayette) in response to the recent finding of bTB in the wild Franklin County deer. In the Surveillance Zone, the DNR’s goal is to collect samples from up to 1,100 hunter harvested deer this fall.

The emphasis will be on checking bucks that are 2-years-old or older. To meet this objective, the Surveillance Area will consist of periods of mandatory and voluntary check-in at biological check stations.

Mandatory check-in of hunter-harvested deer will be required at biological check stations on Sept. 24-25 and from Nov. 4 through Nov. 27. Within twelve hours of harvesting a deer in the Surveillance Area, hunters must check their deer online (www.CheckINGame.dnr.IN.gov) to obtain a registration number, then bring the deer to a biological check station.

Voluntary sample submission will be from Oct. 1-Nov. 3 and Dec. 3-11. If enough samples are not collected through hunter-harvested deer to meet the surveillance objectives, DNR personnel and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services will be deployed to shoot and test deer in the Surveillance Area in early 2017 after the end of the 2016 deer season.

If you hunt in one of these counties, take the time to learn more about what’s going on and your responsibilities. A good place to start is at the Indiana DNR website: www. DNR.in.gov.

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