Game ranch owner falsified information related to chronic wasting disease testing
A Mecosta County game ranch owner has been sentenced on charges resulting from an investigation by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Lester Jay Gemmen, 64, of Morley was charged with providing false information regarding the origin of two deer heads that were submitted for disease testing, and for failing to properly maintain fencing at the Super G Ranch. The ranch is a privately owned cervid (POC) facility, a designation that includes game ranches and hunting ranches.
He was sentenced by the 77th District Court to 60 days in jail for each count, ordered to pay $775 in fines and costs and must perform 80 hours of community service.
The investigation began in 2017 after two of the six deer heads submitted by Gemmen tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).
“I commend the detectives from our Special Investigations Unit and our field conservation officers for their thorough, professional approach to this investigation,” said 1st Lt. David Shaw, supervisor of the Special Investigations Unit of the DNR Law Enforcement Division.
The facility’s remaining deer were depopulated and tested, but no further evidence of CWD was found. The facility remains under quarantine, currently preventing ownership of farmed cervids.
The Privately Owned Cervid Program is jointly managed by the DNR and MDARD. There is mandatory CWD testing in all registered herds in Michigan, under the oversight of MDARD. The DNR oversees POC registration and performs inspections of POC facilities. Proper maintenance of POC facilities is critical to protecting Michigan’s free-ranging and privately owned cervid herds.
CWD is a fatal central nervous system disease that affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose. It attacks the brain of infected animals, creating small lesions in the brain, which result in death. It is transmitted through direct animal-to-animal contact or by contact with saliva, urine, feces, blood, carcass parts of an infected animal or infected soil. To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in humans. However, as a precaution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend that infected animals not be consumed as food by humans or domestic animals.
Since May 2015, CWD-positive deer have been found in Michigan. As of mid-March 2018, 57 free-ranging deer have tested positive for the disease. CWD has not been found in the Upper Peninsula, though it has been discovered in Wisconsin, approximately 40 miles from the western Upper Peninsula border.
The DNR is working with stakeholders to address the status of CWD in Michigan. In the coming weeks, the DNR and the Michigan Natural Resources Commission will host a series of public engagement meetings across the state on CWD. The sessions will provide hunters, business owners and residents with opportunities to share their ideas and observations.
In addition, the DNR, NRC and MDARD are evaluating recommendations from the CWD Working Group, which was created after last year’s CWD Symposium. The symposium brought national and international experts to Michigan to discuss CWD. During the coming months, the DNR, NRC and MDARD will work with stakeholders to develop new CWD regulation recommendations.