ROGERS CITY - The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development named two potential high-risk areas after two deer shot in Montmorency and Presque Isle counties tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.
One deer was taken in northern Montmorency County, while another was shot in northern Presque Isle County, MDARD bovine tuberculosis eradication program Coordinator Richard Smith said. All cattle and bison farmers within 10 miles of where the deer were shot will be tested, including freezer beef operations. These are herds of six or less where no breeding is taking place and the beef is kept by the owner for personal use.
"When we find either an infected deer or infected cattle herd, we do a 10-mile circle around them, or at least do some testing," he said. "It's not always 10 miles, but generally that is the case."
Testing will include 28 cattle or bison owners in Presque Isle County and one in Cheboygan County, Smith said. Owners in Montmorency County won't have to do additional testing because the county is part of the modified accredited zone. This means cattle and bison owners already do annual testing for the disease, although the radius around that deer includes pieces of Cheboygan, Otsego and Presque Isle counties.
Herds must be tested within six months of March 17, according to a release. If an entire herd has been tested within six months prior to that date, an additional test isn't needed.
No infected cattle herds have been found in Presque Isle County since 2000, Smith said, but hunters in the county shoot an average of one infected deer per year. The department required similar tests after hunters shot three infected deer in the county in 2011.
Anyone with questions can attend a meeting on April 8 at the Presque Isle District Library in Rogers City, Smith said. It starts at 7 p.m., and department staff can answer questions about circle testing and changes in TB zones. He expects MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams and DNR Director Keith Creagh to sign a new memorandum of understanding within a week that would change some parts of the state to TB-free status.
The discovery of the deer in Presque Isle County won't have an impact on the recent lifting of a baiting ban, Department of Natural Resources wildlife veterinarian Dan Schmitt said.
The deer were two of the 21 identified as TB-positive in 2013, Smith said. Only one was shot in Presque Isle County, while the rest were taken in Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Oscoda areas.
A map of where the deer were taken shows most come from an area the DNR calls Deer Management Unit 452. It's part of a report Schmitt presented to the Natural Resources Commission Thursday, and it concludes that while eliminating TB might take decades - if it's possible - the area is in better shape than before.
Apparent prevalence of infected deer has dropped by 65 percent since 1995, from 4.9 percent to 1.7, Schmitt said. Despite the discovery of six TB-positive elk over the years, the disease hasn't taken root in the herd. The elk didn't have extensive chest lesions, and couldn't spread the disease effectively enough to get it established among themselves. The same goes for other mammals that tested positive.
What's more, fewer cattle herds are becoming infected, Schmitt said.
"For the last six years, we've had two or three herds (become infected) per year, while in previous years it was four to seven," he said.
There are around 100,000 deer in the five-county area, and this is about as low as hunters want to go, Schmitt said. Without better compliance with baiting bans and reducing deer numbers even further, TB in deer likely won't be eradicated.
"There's very little public support to reduce deer numbers below where they are now, and a lot of that land is private land," he said. "That means (TB) prevalence will probably remain where it is. Still, it's lower than when we started, and we're not seeing any spread and fewer cattle herds are becoming infected."