N.Y. scrambles to get info out on CWD regulations

Albany — Pennsylvania’s first case of chronic wasting disease triggered a swift response from New York wildlife officials – one that heightened in its urgency in the days leading up to the opening of the Pennsylvania firearms season Nov. 26.

Armed with the knowledge that 8,000 New York residents hunt deer in Pennsylvania and harvest an estimated 1,200-2,000 Keystone State whitetails, DEC officials imposed tight restrictions on the transport of any deer killed in Pennsylvania.

“Right now, we’re taking the tact that we’re worried about CWD,” said Steve Hurst, who heads up DEC’s biological survey unit. “We know it’s going to be painful on some of the hunters, but it’s our job to protect the (New York deer) herd.”

When CWD was discovered in two captive deer in a southern Pennsylvania facility, New York tightened its CWD regs to prohibit the import of Pa.-killed whitetail parts such as the brain and spinal cord, back into New York.

That essentially means that successful hunters will need to process their deer before bringing it back from Pennsylvania into New York. The regulations also hit meat processors and taxidermists on the New York side of the border, since deer couldn’t be brought to them from Pennsylvania.

In addition to the New York hunters who venture into Pennsylvania to hunt, many successful resident hunters from Pa. take their deer to meat processors and taxidermists in New York.

Under the new regulations, that can’t happen.

The timing of Pennsylvania’s CWD discovery – the first case was confirmed Oct. 10 – couldn’t have been worse for New York officials. Pennsylvania’s archery deer season was well under way, and the traditional Monday-after-Thanksgiving firearms season opener is one of the biggest hunting days in the entire U.S.

“We’re concerned about getting the information out,” Hurst said earlier this month. “It’s largely an educational campaign at this point. We know it’s short notice, but we didn’t have much of a choice. The information was slow in coming from Pennsylvania (from the state Department of Agriculture, which has oversight over the captive deer facilities).”

While the initial discovery occurred well away from the New York border in the southern end of Pennsylvania, it has prompted Pa. officials to quarantine about two dozen captive whitetail facilities with at least remote ties to the infected farm due to movement of deer between facilities. One of those, Hurst said, is just 16 miles from the New York border.

“We knew enough about Pennsylvania’s deer farm situation to be scared right off the bat,” Hurst said, noting the regular movement of does between deer farms for breeding purposes.

“Pennsylvania is the third-largest deer farming state in the nation – 1,100 facilities and 23,000 deer that we know of,” he said. “In New York, you cannot move a deer without a permit first. In Pennsylvania, you can permit after the fact. It can be hard to trace.”

One deer at the facility where CWD was discovered also escaped during depopulation efforts in which the remainder of the deer within the facility were shot. At presstime that doe was still roaming the area and Pa. officials were attempting to shoot it and have it tested for CWD.

It remained to be seen heading into Pennsylvania’s firearms deer season how strict New York’s enforcement efforts will be regarding the transport of Pa.-killed deer across the border into New York.

“We’re working real closely with law enforcement,” Hurst said. “We’re trying to take a very educational approach. We’ve sent out flyers to meat processors, and we’re asking for their help and the hunters’ help to get the information out to as many people as possible.”

On some well-traveled routes along the border DEC is planning signage to inform hunters of the transport restrictions on Pa.-killed whitetails.

While the focus is on the Pennsylvania CWD discovery, Hurst said it has prompted DEC to take a look at New York’s captive deer facilities as well.

CWD was first discovered in the spring of 2005 in five captive and later two wild whitetails in Oneida County.

“We have not halted intrastate (within the state) movement (of captive deer), but it’s under close scrutiny,” he said.

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