Discovery of Maryland deer with CWD sends shivers through Pennsylvania
It's ironic that one of the biggest stories in Pennsylvania's outdoor world – Commonwealth Court dismissing the Unified Sportsmen's lawsuit against the Game Commission over deer management – stayed atop the headlines for just three days before it was dethroned by an even bigger story involving deer.
That new development resulted from tests revealing that a deer taken by a hunter last fall in Allegany County, Maryland, which nestles against Pennsylvania's southern border, was found to have chronic wasting disease. That indicates CWD is in the wild deer population in an area where animals may be moving in and out of our state.
The Maryland hunter reported taking the deer on Nov. 27, 2010 in Green Ridge State Forest, which abuts Pennsylvania. Maryland is now one of 20 states and Canadian provinces with CWD documented in deer, elk or moose. Maryland is the third neighbor of the Keystone State to discover CWD in deer – we're now pretty much surrounded.
In recent years, CWD has been discovered close to our borders in deer in southern New York and northern West Virginia.
In both those cases, CWD seemed to have been contained and intensive testing indicated that the always-fatal-for-deer disease did not spread through the deer population. And the Game Commission has annually been testing many thousands of hunter-killed deer in Pennsylvania and has never detected CWD.
Pennsylvania wildlife officials, such as Walt Cottrell, Game Commission veterinarian, have always said that it is not a question of IF CWD will come to our commonwealth, but WHEN. This western Maryland case suggests it may be soon.
An aggressive deer-herd-reduction management strategy employed by the Game Commission in the last decade has resulted in far lower deer numbers in most of Pennsylvania. Although it has infuriated many, many hunters, it will make the state's deer far less vulnerable to a CWD outbreak than in the late 1900s.
There was fear then that if CWD got into the commonwealth, it could spread quickly and decimate the deer population. It may be now that when it shows up, it will spread very slowly, the way it has in other states.
But this finding of CWD in a western Maryland deer is sobering for Pennsylvania because there are still dense populations of cervids in our state – namely deer in extremely urban areas, such as those around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and elk in the four-county elk range in the northcentral region.
If CWD finds its way into those areas, the results could be disastrous.