CWD in PA: a question of when, not if
A prediction made by two Pennsylvania Game Commission officials recently is extremely alarming.
One official – PGC wildlife veterinarian Dr. Walter Cottrell – said in a story that appeared in Pennsylvania Outdoors News that it's probable that chronic wasting disease is either already in the state or it's only a matter of time before it arrives.
Cottrell's remark was made in response to a recent discovery of an infected deer in Maryland, just 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border.
With all the work the PGC has been doing lately on deer movements, we know that 10 miles – when it comes to a whitetail's ability to travel – is not far.
The discovery of the disease in Maryland now means that the disease has been found in four states – West Virginia, Virginia and New York being the others – that border Pennsylvania.
We're being surrounded, and that's not good.
Before CWD was discovered in Maryland, it was found in West Virginia and Virginia. Maryland was basically surrounded by the disease until it eventually turned up there, similar to the predicament that Pennsylvania is in.
But here's the odd thing about CWD turning up south of Pennsylvania's border. It hasn't yet been found in any of the states surrounding those three. So how did it get here from the Midwest where it's found in numerous states?
Could it have traveled through some states undetected? Can it be spread by another means that biologists aren't yet aware of?
Questions like that heighten the concern that accompanies the disease.
I spoke to PGC Northeast Region biologist Kevin Wenner about CWD inching closer to Pennsylvania, and like Cottrell, his comments highlighted just how serious it is.
Wenner said it's the question to be asked now is when, not if, CWD will appear in Pennsylvania. And once it's here, there's basically no way to remove it, cure it or stop it, as of now.
"It's a huge potential threat to deer hunting," Wenner said.
On the plus side, the PGC does have a very comprehensive response plan if CWD is discovered, and they have a very proactive monitoring program.
And there are also discussions about limiting or prohibiting the feeding of deer and possibly the use of scents and attractants by hunters, as those items can force deer to congregate.
And right now, wildlife officials know the disease can be spread via animal-to-animal contact, so congregation is the last thing they want to see.
And then there's the impact that has the potential to affect every deer hunter in the state. If the disease comes here, how will we know that the deer we shoot in hunting season isn't infected? Does it mean that successful hunters will have to make an extra stop – at the lab, before taking their deer to the butcher?
And the biggest question of all: Will hunters still want to hunt in an area where the disease is known to exist?