I could sense the despair in Dr. Walt Cottrell's voice. As the wildlife veterinarian for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Cottrell has seen virtually every malady that can strike any species in the state. He's seen it all… almost.
The Game Commission has launched a media campaign, if you will, to raise awareness of the risk of chronic wasting disease and the importance of the parts ban (restrictions on bringing back parts of cervids from states where CWD has been documented). I spoke to Cottrell to get his thoughts on the disease, and he had a lot to say.
He's surprised it hasn't been found in Pennsylvania, considering it is just over 10 miles away in Maryland.
But as we spoke, I began to feel that there's a good chance CWD is already here and we just don't know it yet. According to Cottrell, there are no restrictions on captive deer. They can be transported from state to state, and, until an animal is dead there is no way to test for CWD. That means someone can purchase a captive deer in Texas — a CWD state — bring it into Pennsylvania and have no idea if it has the disease.
That's a huge risk.
Let's assume the deer has CWD, escapes from its enclosure and roams the surrounding woods intermingling with our wild deer. That infected deer can shed CWD prions through its feces. Other deer can become infected by simply contacting that area.
And just like that — thanks to a captive deer imported from a another state — we have CWD in Pennsylvania.
I've been in the field with Cottrell several times and I've found him to be professional and precise with his work. He doesn't get overly excited and he's not one to jump the gun.
But when I spoke to Cottrell about CWD last week, he was a different person. There was urgency in Cottrell's voice when he said those hunting out of state need to read up on the parts ban and abide by it 100 percent. He indicated the agency may no longer issue warnings and switch to citations for those who don't follow the ban.
Cottrell was passionate when he spoke about the need for stronger oversight on the captive deer industry, and he didn't shy away from the tough stance of banning urine-based deer lures in Pennsylvania.
A ban on deer lure?
Yes. And it makes sense.
CWD prions can be carried in the urine, which originates from captive deer. Lure is obviously used to attract deer, which could be a catastrophe if lure from an infected deer is dumped onto the forest floor.
There's a lot of risks with CWD and we have a lot to lose. This disease goes above the common deer debates of herd reduction, antlerless licenses and season length.
If it gets into part of the state, there is nothing to debate. We all just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope the Game Commission can get things under control, quickly.
If not, deer hunting as we know it could change for generations to come. Whether you’re for or against the Game Commissions deer management program, CWD is a threat that no one wants to see. It's a threat that is serious enough to hit home with Cottrell, and it should have the same effect on the rest of us.