Sounding the alarm against captive breeding farms used for canned hunts can spread fatal diseases.

Jill Fritz: Captive hunts increase CWD concerns Lansing state Journal  August 14, 2015

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been sounding the alarm over new cases of chronic wasting disease that were found in three free-ranging deer in the state — and rightly so. CWD is a devastating, fatal disease that has no cure, vaccine or treatment. CWD infects deer, elk and other cervids and is spread through abnormal proteins called prions that can be transmitted through saliva, urine and other bodily fluids.

Jill Fritz is the Michigan state director for The Humane Society of the United States.
Jill Fritz is the Michigan state director for The Humane Society of the United States.

Although the DNR has responded to try and prevent the disease from spreading where the three cases were found, much more remains to be done to stop the disease from arriving in entirely new areas.

CWD was first found in Michigan in 2008 on a captive breeding farm, where deer, elk and other animals are raised to sell to captive or “canned” hunts. Animals at these facilities are stocked and shot behind fenced enclosures for guaranteed trophies. These pay-to-slay operations bear no resemblance to traditional hunting, as they lack the core element of “fair chase.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for captive hunts to offer “no kill, no pay” policies or boast about their “100 percent success rates.”

Outspoken musician Ted Nugent even owns a canned hunt in our state. Nugent has publicly defended the illegal killing of Cecil the lion — which, although deplorable – is unsurprising, since he’s pleaded guilty to poaching crimes of his own. Cecil’s death has brought a sinister spotlight to the entire trophy hunting industry — especially canned hunting.

These ranches pose significant risks to our native deer herd, in part because they stock their animals at such unnaturally high densities. This greatly increases the risk of transmitting CWD. Captive hunts also have an ongoing need for fresh animals to shoot, so live animals are often shipped and trucked throughout the state. Because there is no live test for CWD, it’s impossible to know whether the animals entering Michigan are infected.

Unlike other wildlife diseases, the prions that cause CWD can survive in the soil for years — so even if a herd with CWD is completely decimated, any new animals brought onto the land can contract the disease years later. In Wisconsin, where CWD continues to spread, the DNR spent nearly half a million dollars to protect wild herds from coming into contact with contaminated soil.

It’s nearly impossible to control the spread of CWD in wild deer — especially considering our lawmakers’ senseless war against wolves, who improve the health of wild herds by eliminating CWD-infected deer. A healthy wolf population is an economic boon to the state, because wolves prey on the sick deer and act as a firewall against the spread of CWD from other states.

Without a vibrant population of nature’s best defense against this disease, we must commit to an even stronger offense. The first step is making sure that CWD doesn’t enter our state on the back of someone’s truck en route to stocking a canned hunt.

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