Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Chronic Wasting Disease — Pa.’s Agriculture Department a disappointment

Mark NaleChronic wasting disease is now within Pennsylvania’s borders. With CWD already in New York, Maryland and West Virginia, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl Roe shared his concern with me last Monday.

“It wasn’t a matter of ‘if,’ but rather, ‘when’ CWD would get here.”

The “when” occurred about a month ago, when the first case of CWD was confirmed in a captive doe that died in Adams County. Since then, a second deer — a buck — from the same quarantined farm in New Oxford, Pa., has tested positive for CWD. Three other facilities in three counties have also been quarantined since early October, because the sick deer had passed through all of them.

Subsequently, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture pinpointed at least 25 additional deer farms in the Keystone State that received deer from one of the original four farms identified in October. The quarantine list grows almost daily and now involves deer farms in 16 counties. Some deer had even been sold out-of-state.

Unfortunately, our infection with CWD follows a similar pattern to what has occurred in many other states — this disease was first discovered in a captive deer. Pennsylvania is home to about 1,100 deer and elk farmers — some big operations, some small.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is the controlling agency when it comes to captive deer raised by deer farmers. The Game Commission is in charge of wild deer.

I am more than a little unhappy with the quality and quantity of effort from officials at the state Department of Agriculture. They botched the effort to euthanize (for CWD testing) the remaining nine deer at the New Oxford facility, with one doe escaping on Oct. 16. As of this writing, this possible CWD carrier is still on the loose.

Another doe from the New Oxford farm was sold to Freedom Whitetails (Blair County) and then sold again to a deer farmer in Huntingdon County. It has also escaped. The suspect doe is wearing a purple ear tag with a number 4 on it and it has been loose — possibly spreading CWD prions in its urine — since early summer.

Travis Rhodes, the owner of Freedom Whitetails, has offered a $200 reward to anyone who kills this doe. According to Rhodes, if it tests negative for CWD, his facility will be removed from the quarantine.

Where is the oversight?

To me, the ag department’s quarantine seems almost meaningless, because no one is watching. The department’s press secretary commented to me, “We trust that our deer farmers are being ethical about this.”

My bank trusts that its customers are ethical, too. That is why they have a thick vault, security cameras and bulletproof glass at the drive-up window, and they ask for identification. Hunters would like to see the same level of concern from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Are we asking too much?

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