Chronic wasting disease has spread to free-ranging deer in an area of the state where it previously had been detected only in captive deer.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission Wednesday announced a free-ranging whitetail buck in Bell Township, Clearfield County, has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).
The CWD-positive buck was shot by a wildlife conservation officer June 7 on State Game Lands 87 because it showed signs of being diseased. Preliminary tests indicated the buck was CWD-positive, and the final results confirm the buck was infected with CWD, which always is fatal to deer and elk.
The buck was within Disease Management Area 3 (DMA 3), which was established in 2014 after surveillance by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture detected CWD at two captive deer facilities in Jefferson County.
Because this buck was located near the center of the 350-square-mile DMA 3, the DMA will not need to expand.
Game Commission taking immediate steps: However, the Game Commission is immediately taking steps to increase CWD surveillance within DMA 3.
The Game Commission will be allocating Deer Management Assistance Program permits within DMA 3. Each hunter can purchase up to two of the 2,800 DMAP permits anywhere hunting licenses are sold by requesting permits for Unit 3045.
The permits will become available very soon, likely by July 13.
These DMAP permits can be used to take antlerless deer on public and private lands within DMA 3 during any established deer season. Hunters must acquire permission from private landowners prior to hunting.
Harvest data from DMAP permits will augment CWD surveillance.
All known road-killed deer within DMA 3, and a portion of the deer harvested by hunters, already are tested each year for the disease. The Game Commission is looking to increase this sampling effort and obtain more-precise harvest-location information. Cooperation from hunters will be an important first step to make this happen.
The Game Commission also plans to use sharpshooters in DMA 3, in a small, focal area where the CWD-positive deer was found, in hopes of stopping the disease before it has a chance to grow and spread.
Increasing threat: In Pennsylvania, CWD has been an increasing threat. The disease also exists among wild deer in the area of southcentral Pennsylvania defined as Disease Management Area 2. Twenty-five free-ranging deer tested positive for CWD during 2016. And an additional four CWD-positive deer have been detected since, raising to 51 the total of CWD-positives detected within the DMA 2 since 2012.
While the spread of CWD within Pennsylvania is a concern statewide and a threat to the state’s deer and its deer-hunting tradition, this latest CWD-positive within DMA 3 is a concern also because of its proximity to Pennsylvania’s elk range, which abuts DMA 3. More than 100 elk are tested for CWD each year and, thus far, the disease has not been detected among the state’s elk.
“There is no vaccine to prevent deer or elk from contracting CWD, and there’s no treatment to cure infected animals,” Game Commission wildlife-management director Wayne Laroche said in a PGC news release. “However, if we can remove the infected animals from this area so they are no longer coming in contact with healthy deer or shedding the prion that causes the disease, we may be able to slow its spread and minimize its effects on deer and elk, and the people who enjoy them.
“It’s important our response is as effective and efficient as possible to attempt to curtail this disease before it becomes well-established in an area where it not only is a threat to our deer, but also our elk."
No strong evidence that CWD can be transferred to humans: While CWD poses a serious threat to Pennsylvania’s deer and elk, there is no strong evidence it can be transmitted to humans. As a precaution, however, hunters are advised not to eat the meat from animals known to be infected with CWD, or believed to be diseased.
There already is a prohibition on removing the high-risk parts of harvested deer from any DMA. Hunters who harvest deer and take it to a meat processor or taxidermist within a DMA are making certain that deer are available to the Game Commission for CWD surveillance.
Laroche said cooperating deer hunters within DMA 3 will play a key role in the CWD surveillance to take place there. If the harvest locations of sampled deer are known, it will be possible to more precisely target management actions, he said.
It doesn’t cost anything to drop deer heads off for sampling, and if a sample tests positive, the hunter will be notified.
Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said it’s important to respond quickly and directly to the serious threat CWD represents. Response measures in areas where CWD is known to be present improve the chances of limiting the disease to a few areas as opposed to many, he said.
“For the sake of our deer and elk, and their importance to hunters and nonhunters alike, we must do all we can to control this threat in the Commonwealth,” Burhans said in a news release.
Information for this story was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.