CWD not worrying many hunters yet
Harrisburg — Chronic wasting disease, the always fatal brain disease in deer and other cervids, was little more than background buzz for most hunters preparing for the first day of the firearms season on deer as this issue went to press the weekend before the first day.
No new developments had emerged through Thanksgiving week. And, although those watching the issue closely were wondering when the next CWD revelation would explode, most hunters seemed to have nothing more than a passing interest.
Even those planning to hunt within the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s 600-square-mile disease management area in Adams and York counties were showing little concern for the state’s first confirmed cases of CWD.
“I don’t think there are a lot of guys who know about it, or care about it,” said Rick Watts, president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Quality Deer Management Association and a resident and hunter within the disease management area. “It’s not going to change my plans at all.”
Ronald Weaner, commissioner on the state Board of Game Commissioners from District 6, which includes Adams and York counties, said, “I don’t think it’s going to make a bit of difference.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to change whether or not they hunt in this area,” he added. “Either they don’t know about it or they’ve been to a meeting and heard that it’s OK to eat the meat. I killed two deer in the DMA and I’m going to eat them.”
Chuck Boyer, a hunter from York who also was planning to once again hunt within the disease management area, agreed, “The Game Commission says it isn’t in the wild deer and, even if it is, you can eat the meat.”
The commission has consistently and repeatedly stressed that in Pennsylvania CWD has only been confirmed in two captive deer in the same enclosure in New Oxford, Adams County, and not in any wild deer.
However, two other deer associated with that same captive herd have escaped into the wild and remain at large. One escaped from the New Oxford enclosure Oct. 18, when staff from the state Ag department and USDA’s Wildlife Services were killing the remaining animals in that captive herd for CWD testing.
A second deer was moved from the New Oxford site to a facility in East Freedom, Blair County, and then to an unlicensed enclosure in Alexandria, Huntingdon County, from which it escaped “several months ago,” according to Mathew Meals, deputy secretary of the state Department of Agriculture.
And, the commission’s statement on eating venison is a bit more complex than Boyer’s summary.
The CWD section of the commission’s website notes, “There is no evidence that the agent of CWD affects humans. However, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD agent be avoided as research into the disease continues.
“CWD is caused by abnormally shaped proteins, called prions They accumulate in greatest numbers in certain parts of infected animals – the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen, but are also found in muscle.
“As a precaution, hunters are advised to not eat meat from animals known to be infected with CWD.”
While attitudes about CWD in the state among most hunters may appear to be rather complacent, that could change quickly with confirmation of an infected deer in the wild. As Weaner noted, “If we get some [CWD] positives in the wild herd, then who knows what’s going to happen.”
And, regardless of such a spreading of the disease into the wild, the commission estimates it will need to continue monitoring efforts in just the one part of the state where two captive deer have been found to have the disease for at least five years. (CWD can exist in a deer from several years before killing the animal and the prions that cause CWD are known to remain viable in the environment for at least 16 years.)
Carl Roe, PGC executive director, explained, “For the Game Commission, we will spend considerable funds this year to execute our plan. If the disease is contained in the captive herd, then we do not anticipate many changes or impact.
“If it gets into the wild herd, we will have to evaluate the extent of the disease management areas and how to adapt to that situation.
“It will certainly have a fiscal impact on the agency. There may be a time when we declare the whole state a disease impact area, because we cannot afford to manage several DMAs. Again we have not detected CWD in the wild herd at this time.”
However, he stressed, “since there is no CWD detected in the wild herd, we would anticipate the hunting season to be as normal. What hunters have to do after they harvest their deer would be the only change and this is only for the disease management area. Across the state I see no impact in other areas.”
While Ag had lifted quarantines on three deer farms, the list of captive deer properties under quarantine because of exposure to deer from the New Oxford herd had grown to 28 in 15 counties.
Quarantines had been lifted from Zachary Nelson’s Cole Creek Whitetails at 80 Bordell Cross Road, Smethport; Matthew Anthony’s Anthony Whitetail Ranch at 830 Woodel Road, Grampian; and Harry Eichelberger’s Bud’s Place at 5032 Eichelberger Lane, Spring Grove.