Response to CWD — if it shows up in Pennsylvania elk herd — is discussed
At a recent legislative hearing on chronic wasting disease, held in Harrisburg, Rep. Matt Gabler asked about the vulnerability of the elk herd living within his district.
The Clearfield County Republican asked how susceptible the state’s elk are to getting CWD, and if the Game Commission is worried about the elk herd.
Commission wildlife veterinarian Justin Brown said the agency is very concerned about CWD getting into the elk herd. He noted that if the disease shows up anywhere in the elk herd, the commission will likely respond by turning the entire elk range into a disease management area.
Chronic wasting disease has been found in captive deer at two game farms about 30 miles from the southern edge of the elk range, making officials nervous about it crossing over into free-ranging deer, who might carry it to the elk.
As one game commissioner said recently, “It would be bad enough if CWD is found in wild deer in the Northern Tier, but if it gets into the elk range, that would be a disaster.”
The real problem, Brown explained, is how elk deal with wasting disease.
Elk may be less susceptible to CWD than white-tailed deer are, Brown explained. But they may also be able to live longer once they’ve contracted it. Those conclusions are drawn from the West, where elk have been living with CWD for a long time in places like Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
If that proves true, he said, it gives sick animals more time to spread the prions behind the disease over a larger portion of the landscape. That could result in many elk being infected with the disease.