Rabbers Property Management
Rabbers Property Management – DNR Showcase: Conservation Officers Help Prevent Wildlife Disease Risk Michigan Department of Natural Resources sent this bulletin on 11/14/2019 07:48 EST
People might not immediately think that Michigan’s conservation officers are on the front lines of fighting wildlife disease.
Rabbers Property Management
However, the 200 or so men and women sworn to protect the state’s natural resources are vital in the fight against disease threats, including bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease.
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The disease, which is always fatal to white-tailed deer, has been found in several Michigan counties, prompting the Michigan Natural Resources Commission and Department of Natural Resources to implement deer bait and feeding bans in effect for this fall’s hunting seasons.
“These prohibitions are in place to help minimize the amount of contact between deer congregating in areas where feeding and feeding occurs,” said Michigan DNR deputy public information officer John Pepin. “Chronic wasting disease can be transmitted by direct deer-to-deer contact or by contact with saliva, feces, urine, blood, and contaminated feed, water, plants, soil, or carcass parts.”
In the Lower Peninsula, the ban went into effect Jan. 31 for all 68 counties south of the Mackinac Bridge. The regulations also restrict the movement of carcasses in the Lower Peninsula and prohibit the importation of certain carcass parts into the country.
Deer baiting and feeding are prohibited in the core control area of the RUs in the Upper Peninsula, parts of Dickinson, Menominee and Delta counties. Forage and feeding is permitted in the rest of UP, but must be done in accordance with state regulations.
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Tomorrow is the opening day of Michigan’s firearms deer hunting season. For those who illegally prepare deer bait, there is a good chance that conservation officers will.
Patrols, whether in the air or on the ground, have been going on for weeks and are carried out by various means.
Conservation officers are responsible for finding illegal bait, educating hunters and enforcing existing regulations to help reduce the risk of IUs. Officers manage the movement of deer and elk carcasses between counties and states through increased patrols, enforcement and surveillance at primary entry points.
Illegal baiting can result in court costs and fines, a revoked hunting license, confiscated game, and imprisonment.
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“We’re following the boundaries,” said Sgt. Jeff Rabbers, who oversees conservation officers in western Michigan. “We sit on major highways and look for deer shipments. We can rely on motor vehicle code violations to initiate a vehicle stop to address potential gaming violations.”
Because IU can remain in the soil, it is important not to move deer out of the IU management zone or core area in the Lower Peninsula, dispose of carcasses properly, and follow feeding guidelines.
“Our goal is to reduce the rate of spread, to keep it centralized and not allow it to spread beyond these points,” Rabbers said.
Ahead of their enactment, conservationists spent 2018 educating the public about major changes to baiting and feeding regulations.
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“We get a lot of questions about bait,” said Conservation Officer Carter Woodwyk, who patrols Allegan County. “It seems people are trying to do their best and follow the rules.
“I am preparing for the deer season by educating people who have not yet arrived. Obviously, no one wants to get into trouble. AI is a huge thing at the moment, everyone wants to help as much as they can, nobody wants to see the deer herd taken over by AI.”
Infected deer herds threaten the long-term viability of those deer populations as well as negatively affect future deer hunting opportunities.
In 2018, conservation officers made more than 2,000 arrests for wildlife violations, including 44 arrests for baiting and feeding violations of wildebeests in the Wildebeest Management Area in Lower Michigan.
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DNR wildlife workers know that CWD is a contagious, fatal disease among deer, elk and moose (cervid species). The disease is caused by a common protein called a prion that folds incorrectly. Misfolded prions cause brain degeneration, resulting in emaciated deer, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions, and death.
Although there is no evidence that humans have been infected with UHD, the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise against eating meat from infected animals.
The disease can exist in an animal for years before symptoms appear in its late stages. Placing bait on the landscape alters deer movement and behavior and increases deer interactions among different social groups.
This increased interaction creates a risk of disease transmission if the deer are within the herd. Although deer are social animals and interact with each other daily, bait increases this activity and over time attracts deer to areas where the bait is stocked by hunters, increasing the potential for disease spread.
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“We’re trying to be proactive and stop some activity,” Rabbers said. “There is potential for the spread of this disease to increase. This will affect the population. This will affect the future of white-tailed deer in Michigan. Regulations are asset protection. Everyone is affected by Michigan’s natural resource industry — local businesses, restaurants — everything.”
In contrast to last year’s largely educational efforts, conservationists will be more aggressive in enforcing PPE regulations this year. Forage and feeding limits are set by different boundaries on both Michigan peninsulas.
“The new regulations are effective beginning in 2019,” said Gary Hagler, chief of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “There are no exemptions for bait hunting during firearms deer hunting season in the Lower Peninsula. This much is clear – this is not allowed and will be enforced as a zero tolerance policy.
“Although there are limited parts in U.P. where feed is limited, this concept was brought to the area last year and promoted very widely.”
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Strategically deployed at the state level, conservation officers live in the communities they patrol and have built relationships and increased awareness of the places they work.
They may learn about illegal bait from a confidant, an anonymous tip to the DNR’s All Poaching Hotline (1-800-292-7800), or while on routine patrol.
For hunters, success with bait requires patience. It’s not hard to find a trophy grazing on recently placed bait. Therefore, bait is usually placed by hunters before the hunting season.
Officers determine where to conduct bait flights based on historical problem areas, complaints and suspicious activity they witness during their patrols.
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“After the plane leaves the airport, officers disperse to designated areas,” Rabbers said. “Officers on the ground listen to the officer on the plane, he constantly talks to the pilot and shows what he sees. “Officers on the ground are monitoring the conversation to determine where to drive.”
The officer and the pilot are both looking out the window with binoculars. The pilot turns and lands the plane so the officer can get a closer look, as well as plot coordinates and take photos as evidence. The pilot displays the photo number and description of the photo for the officer’s documents.
“When you’re doing bait flights, it’s not as important to get an officer out there right away,” Woodwyk said. “The food will not go away. If we bait them now, they will probably be there on opening day. They want a chance to shoot a deer.”
Sometimes security officers on board can relay what they see to officers on the ground so they can fix violations immediately.
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“When you’re up in the air, you can tell you’re on a property run by one person or the same group of people because you’ll see a lot of hunting sites that are all set up the same way,” Woodwyk said.
“If you see a beaten deer trail, you may find a bait or spin-cast feeder at the end of the trail,” Woodwick said. “It’s amazing what you see from the air: you see a blueprint of everything you can’t see on the ground. If you’re blind, it’s easy to see if there’s bait nearby.”
“Flights are a simple procedure that can be effective,” Rabbers said. “In the first few years, our position was education, and it turned into serious action. As a result, we see more compliance and fewer violations.”
Preventing the spread of animal disease is critical to maintaining Michigan’s valuable natural resources, including white-tailed deer herds.
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Conservation officers are the frontline defenders tasked with informing the hunting public and enforcing baiting regulations to prevent the spread of AI and other wildlife diseases.
Their important efforts help preserve Michigan’s long-standing deer hunting heritage for today’s and tomorrow’s hunters.
See a display of previous DNR stories in our archives at Michigan.gov/DNRStories. To subscribe to upcoming Showcasing articles, sign up for free email delivery at Michigan.gov/DNR.
/Note to Editors: Contact: John Pepin, DNR Series Editor Showcase, 906-226-1352. Accompanying photos and a text-only version of this story are available for download below. The header information is as follows. Credit Michigan Department of Natural Resources unless otherwise noted.
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