Public hears bad news about CWD at meeting
Roaring Spring, Pa. — The spread of chronic wasting disease to Pennsylvania’s wild deer herd is going to mean changes.
What those are, no one yet knows.
Pennsylvania Game Commission officials talked with a full house of hunters, deer farmers and others at Cove Middle School in Blair County to talk about the disease.
First discovered in a captive, farm-raised deer in Adams County last October, it subsequently showed up in three hunter-killed deer taken during the firearms deer season.
Two of those were killed in Blair County, one in Bedford County.
The Game Commission’s Southcentral Region Director Brad Myers detailed for the group where the most recent CWD-positive deer were shot.
“The three deer included a 21⁄2-year-old buck that was harvested in Frankstown Township, Blair County [east of Hollidaysburg],an adult doe taken in Freedom Township, Blair County [along I-99 near East Freedom] – close to the Taylor-Freedom Township line – and a 11⁄2-year-old buck shot in South Woodbury Township, Bedford County, near New Enterprise,” Myers said.
“All three hunters were contacted and interviewed to learn exactly where they harvested their deer,” Myers said. “All three deer were harvested during Pennsylvania’s regular rifle season last fall.”
According to Myers, the last of the test results were received by the commission on March 18. He also noted that only three of the nearly 3,000 deer tested outside of York and Adams counties tested positive for CWD. All three of the CWD-positive deer were shot in Wildlife Management Unit 4A, where a total of 192 deer had been tested for the disease.
In response to one of the many questions related to deer farms, Myers noted that the two Blair County deer were shot very close to existing captive-deer facilities. Bedford County is just north of where CWD-infected deer have been discovered during recent years in Maryland and West Virginia. A number of captive deer escaped from a Bedford County deer farm last year and not all were shot and tested.
Cal DuBrock, director of the Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, showed those in attendance a map of the disease management area resulting from the disease’s discovery. Some tweaks to it could yet be made, he said.
But generally, as it looks now, it’s bisected north to south by I-99, extending west to Portage, east to Raystown Lake, south to Route 30 and north to Tyrone.
Within those boundaries, things like the use of urine-based attractants and the feeding of deer may be prohibited, as might the rehabilitation of sick or wounded deer, DuBrock said. No final decisions have been made yet, though.
Also to be determined is what kind and how much surveillance – in terms of sampling hunter-killed and road-killed deer – may go on within the disease area.
The commission spent about $500,000 running a check station and doing surveillance in the disease management area around Adams County last fall. That work was to continue for several more years.
But that might not be possible, especially now that there are two disease management areas to consider, DuBrock said.
“An effort of that level, it’s probably outside the scope of what we can afford to do,” DuBrock said.
The state’s CWD Task Force was scheduled to meet April 5 to discuss the situation. More announcements about what rules hunters and others might see will follow in the weeks and months after that, he added.
Decisions will be announced and discussed at additional public meetings that will be scheduled this fall.
“The good news is that we’ve got six months or so until the next deer hunting season, so we’ve got time to work some things out,” DuBrock said.
In the meantime, just about everything those gathered in the school auditorium heard about CWD was bad.
Walt Cottrell, the commission’s wildlife veterinarian, gave a presentation and answered questions about CWD. He made it clear that the disease is bad news.
The disease is always fatal to the deer that get it, he said. It develops when prions in body parts like the brain and spinal cord make a deer “waste” away, hence its name. There’s no vaccine to prevent it and no treatment to cure it.
It’s spread by deer-to-deer contact, when one sick deer sheds prions through saliva, urine or feces that contact another deer. It can take months for symptoms of the disease to show up in a particular animal.
There’s no way to test a deer for the disease while it’s alive either.
“This is not a diagnosis that can be made before the animal has died or been killed,” Cottrell said.
If a deer does die of the disease, animals like crows, vultures and mammalian scavengers that feed on it can spread the disease through their feces, too.
No one knows how the disease formed, but one thing is clear, Cottrell said. “There’s no place where this disease has ever occurred where it’s ever been stopped,” he said.
New York officials might disagree; they discovered wasting disease in penned deer and at least one wild one immediately outside those fences a half dozen years ago, and say they’ve found no evidence of it since.
But no other state or Canadian province with the disease has ever gotten rid of it, according to various sources.
The worst news for hunters is that, if the disease becomes endemic to Pennsylvania – as it’s done everywhere else – deer populations will suffer, Cottrell said.
The disease has existed in Wyoming since 1967. It’s now found in about 48 percent of all adult mule deer there, Cottrell said. That’s driven buck numbers down to two to three per square mile in places, he added.
In Wisconsin, which became the first state east of the Mississippi with CWD when it was discovered there in 2001, the disease has spread in the outbreak area to the point that 25 percent of all adult bucks are impacted.
“The herd will decline over time,” he said, though he made no predictions about how severe the drop might be or how long it would take to occur.