Tests reveal 3 CWD deer killed in 2 counties

Harrisburg — In recent years, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials have talked about when, not if, chronic wasting disease would show up in the state’s wild deer.

Now it’s here.

Commission officials announced that three hunter-killed deer – two in Blair County and one in Bedford – were found to be CWD positive in testing done at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

And it’s possible more CWD-positive deer may yet turn up.

“The three CWD-positives were part of 2,945 deer sampled for the disease statewide,” said Game Commission Executive Director Carl Roe. “To date, we have received test results from 1,500 samples, including these three positive samples.

“Results from the remaining samples should be available in the next few weeks.”

Officials are hoping the manner in which samples were submitted for testing make more positives unlikely, though.

A total of 2,089 deer collected from within the designated disease management area set up in Adams and York counties – surrounding the Adams County deer farm where a doe behind a fence tested positive for CWD last October – were tested first. None were found to be sick with CWD.

Deer taken by hunters across the state’s southern counties were tested next. It was from those that the three CWD-positive deer in Blair and Bedford were found.

It’s possible that all of the samples remaining to be tested are from deer taken by hunters in more northern counties, said commission spokesman Joe Neville. The hope is that none of those will come back positive for the disease, an always-fatal ailment that attacks deer, elk and other cervids.

There’s no evidence the disease can be passed to humans, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations have said, but hunters are still cautioned against consuming obviously sick deer.

In the meantime, the commission is “working to identify and engage the hunters who harvested these CWD-positive deer to confirm where the whitetails were killed,” Roe said.

The commission knows, from the harvest tags from each deer, the township where they were taken, or at least the townships the hunters thought they were in then. But conservation officers are following up to get more precise details, officials said.

At the same time, the members of the state’s “Interagency CWD Task Force” have been meeting to decide what actions need to be taken from here on out to determine how widespread the disease might be within the wild herd and to figure out how to contain it.

“Pennsylvania has an active Interagency CWD Task Force and a dynamic CWD surveillance program,” Roe noted, “and we will continue to be vigilant and initiate steps included in the commonwealth’s CWD Response Plan.

“We will continue to work diligently with the Department of Agriculture and other members of the task force to better manage the threat of this disease to the state’s captive and wild deer populations.”

The CWD plan outlines some potential actions for when CWD showed up in the wild. They could impact lots of people besides hunters.

The plans calls for the commission to establish a disease management zone in the area surrounding the sick deer. The mandatory testing of all hunter-killed deer and, where possible, the testing of roadkills within that zone are also mentioned.

The plan also says the executive could ban the use of urine-based attractors within the zone.

Coincidentally, even before wasting disease was found in the wild, that’s something at least some commissioners said they wanted to explore on a statewide basis.

People who like to watch and feed deer might suffer, too, because the plan also suggests banning the feeding of deer, again at least within the disease management zone.

Finally, implementation of the plan might impact deer farmers. It suggests Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture quarantine and perhaps depopulate deer farms within the disease zone.

If the department decides not to kill all of the deer on those farms, the plan says it should, among other things, “require continuous testing of all death losses and recommend double fencing for increased security.”

That could be significant because the Blair-Bedford County area is thought to be home to about 10 percent of the more than 1,000 deer farms across Pennsylvania.

Whether they or a wild deer is to blame for the disease’s spread to the wild population is just conjecture at this point, though, officials said.

Chronic wasting disease has existed in Maryland’s wild herd – just 10 miles over the state line from Bedford County – for a couple of years. Game Commission veterinarian Walt Cottrell said previously that it would be possible for sick deer to wander back and forth across that boundary.

But a couple of the CWD-positive deer discovered in Pennsylvania are believed to have been taken within 10 miles of where Purple 4, an escaped captive deer from a farm known to have

ties to the Adams County facility where CWD first showed up in the state, was roaming the woods for a while.

For updates about the CWD situation in Pennsylvania, go to www.outdoornews.com/Pennsylvania.

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