In 2015, the Pennsylvania Game Commission found 12 additional white-tailed deer infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD) — all in Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2), located in southcentral Pennsylvania, west of York County.
DMA 2 is the only area of the state where CWD has been detected in free-ranging deer. York County is in neighboring DMA 1.
The latest cases bring to 22 the total number of free-ranging deer found with CWD within DMA 2 since 2012. This is the highest number of cases to be found in a single year, and more than doubles the total number of CWD-positive deer found in the wild in Pennsylvania.
These new cases have resulted in changes to DMA 2’s boundaries, increasing the size of the DMA by more than 437 square miles. A map showing the latest expansion to DMA 2 has been posted online at www.pgc.pa.gov and will be included in the 2016-17 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest that’s issued to hunters at the time they buy their licenses. However, hunters are reminded that future CWD cases could further impact DMA 2’s boundary, and the most up-to-date maps always can be found at the Game Commission’s website.
DMA 2 previously included parts of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Huntingdon, Fulton and Somerset counties. Parts of Franklin and Clearfield counties have now been added to DMA 2.
Special rules regarding the hunting, transport and feeding of wild deer apply within all DMAs, and are detailed in full online.
One of the new cases was found in a deer harvested by a hunter. The Game Commission said it serves as an example of why hunters need to take the DMA restrictions seriously. The hunter in the case transported a buck that later tested positive for CWD from DMA 2 to a deer processor far outside of the DMA, and the high-risk parts went to a rendering plant.
Transporting a deer out of the DMA is illegal. According to the Game Commission, by leaving behind those parts with the highest-risk of transmitting CWD to other deer, hunters limit the chances the disease will spread to new areas of the state. The hunter in this case, which has been adjudicated, also failed to report the deer as required by law.
The Game Commission said hunters need to take CWD seriously. To do otherwise, risks spreading the disease to deer and elk in other parts of Pennsylvania. In the early stages of infection, CWD tends to spread and increase very slowly in wild deer populations. The Game Commission said this might cause hunters to have a false sense of security, and take the presence of the disease lightly.
In some areas of Wyoming and Wisconsin, more than 40 percent of deer and elk tested have been positive for CWD. Arkansas first reported a CWD-positive elk on Feb. 23. Follow-up sampling since then has found an additional 81 positive animals, and 23 percent of the deer and elk samples from the infected area of northern Arkansas tested positive. It is thought that CWD might have been present, but gone undetected in Arkansas for as long as 10 years.
“This is the one disease that has the potential to drastically change deer hunting as we know it,” said Game Commission Wildlife Management Director Wayne Laroche.
Statewide, a total of 5,645 road-killed, hunter-harvested and suspected infected deer were tested for CWD in Pennsylvania during 2015. The Game Commission stepped up sampling efforts within DMA 2 during 2015 in an attempt to enhance monitoring efforts and to estimate a prevalence level of CWD within townships representing the core area of infection within DMA 2. A total of 1,602 samples were collected from deer within DMA 2. Twelve, or 0.75 percent of these, tested CWD positive.
The Game Commission said the good news is the prevalence level of CWD within DMA2 seems to remain at a relatively low level. But, unless additional control measures are implemented, the infection rate is certain to increase.
The Game Commission for the 2016-17 seasons has allocated 14,500 DMA 2 Antlerless Deer Permits, in addition to antlerless licenses allocated for the WMUs partially within DMA 2. The permits must be purchased online or through mail-in application, and they go on sale at the same time antlerless licenses, July 11. More information on DMA 2 Permits can be found on the CWD page of the Game Commission’s website.
However, controlling total deer numbers only seems to slow the spread of the disease.
Wisconsin’s experience clearly demonstrates that controlling total deer numbers alone will not stop the disease from increasing. Illinois, which has employed a targeted deer-removal strategy at locations where positive animals have been found, has managed to hold prevalence at a low level since finding CWD in 2002. Targeted removal in areas where the disease is most prevalent is a more surgical strategy to limiting the spread of CWD.
Along with Illinois, Wisconsin also found CWD in 2002. Wisconsin began with an aggressive population-reduction strategy until being shut down by public pressure. While it is believed that the prevalence level in Illinois now remains at near 1 percent in the infected area, Wisconsin’s prevalence rate reportedly has climbed to 9.4 percent.
Like Illinois, Wisconsin now is considering the use of a targeted-removal method.
The Game Commission hopes to act sooner rather than later to put in place active control measures to stop the spread and growth of the disease within the Commonwealth. These measures may involve targeted removal of deer at locations where CWD-positive animals have been found. Discussion and planning are currently underway; details will provided once the planning process is further along.
“One thing we know is we will not be successful without the support of deer hunters and the general public,” Laroche said. “If we fail to develop and implement an effective control program, we risk the future of deer hunting along with all of the social and economic benefits that wild white-tailed deer and elk provide to the people of Pennsylvania.”
It has been estimated that deer hunting alone adds more than $1 billion a year to Pennsylvania’s economy.