Between 1994 and 1998, bovine tuberculosis (bTB) was documented in Michigan’s white-tailed deer with increasing prevalence and subsequent transmission of the disease to some of Michigan’s cattle. Consequently, Michigan’s Accredited-Free Status, which allows for unrestricted interstate movement of cattle, was suspended by USDA/APHIS on August 13, 1998. The precise mechanism of bTB transmission between deer and livestock remains unknown, but likely involves indirect contact between animals via shared feed resources.
For several years USDA/APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) has been working to educate farmers and ranchers to the danger of allowing deer access to cattle feed. In fact, WS has erected high fences (3m) around stored feed on at least 50 farms in Michigan in order to prevent deer access. Though the fencing is in place, follow-up inspections noted many of the gates were intentionally or unintentionally left open by farmers.
To combat this problem, WS National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) scientists investigated the use of PVC curtains installed at gate openings as a tool to deter deer from entering stored feed areas. Deer activity before and after the installation of curtains was monitored with motion-activated cameras and surveys for deer tracks inside and outside stored feed areas. Results are promising. Of the 9,461 photographic events, no photographs of deer breaching the PVC curtain were obtained. The majority of the photos were of cattle, farmers or a weather related event, such as the wind blowing the curtain. Deer tracks inside the feed areas decreased (from 10 sets of tracks to zero) following the installation of the PVC curtains.
"This pilot study suggests the curtains may be an effective alternative to gates, allowing unfettered access by landowners and their vehicles but deterring deer" notes NWRC wildlife biologist Are Berentsen. "Future research may involve experiments with captive deer or expanded field studies to more fully evaluate the use of PVC curtains as barriers to deer movement."
Thanks goes to WS operations in Michigan for their assistance in identifying study sites and logistical support.
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