Harrisburg — The people in charge of monitoring farmed deer in Pennsylvania are likely looking west across the state’s border and feeling lucky.
Officials with the Ohio Department of Agriculture placed a deer farm there, World Class Whitetails Hunting Preserve of Holmes County, under quarantine earlier this year after one of its animals became the first ever inside the state to test positive for chronic wasting disease.
The farm had ties to one in Pennsylvania’s Jefferson County that also had CWD-positive deer.
That was as far as things went originally.
Since, however, Ohio agriculture officials have said that all 300 or so deer on the farm must be euthanized. They’ve also sought a temporary restraining order that would keep the farmer from moving his animals.
The reason cited is lack of cooperation. Agriculture officials in a statement said six captive deer were harvested by hunters outside of fences in Holmes County during the state’s recent firearms deer season. Two of those were traced back to World Class Whitetails.
Agriculture officials have also alleged that the owner of the preserve, Daniel Yoder, has kept poor records of his operation – specifically where his deer came from and went – and willingly violated his quarantine order by moving deer off the preserve to another farm.
Department spokeswoman Erica Hawkins was quoted in “The Cleveland Plain Dealer” as saying that “Yoder willfully violated the terms of the quarantine, and we’ve also had chronic record-keeping issues with him. The last straw was deer escaping from his property. That could allow the disease to potentially spread to hundreds of thousands of wild animals in the state.”
That’s not happened here.
No Pennsylvania deer farmer has willfully violated a quarantine order, said state veterinarian Craig Shultz. But record keeping has been an issue at times, he admitted.
When chronic wasting disease first showed up in the Keystone State, it appeared in captive deer on a small, but certified, herd in Adams and York counties, Shultz said. The herd was not intensively managed, he added.
When CWD showed up, agriculture officials tried to do “tracebacks” and figure out where those animals came from, he said. That initially led them to another farm in Lycoming County.
In fact, DNA testing showed that the CWD-positive deer did not match up with the Lycoming farm as thought, he added.
“This was not surprising because we had some record-keeping challenges with that herd in Adams County,” Shultz said.
That’s not been the case since, he said. The second deer farm to find CWD inside its fences, in Jefferson County, had “excellent” records and compliance with department rules.
But keeping track of Pennsylvania’s farmed deer is proving costly, and money is short at all levels.
Agriculture deputy director Mathew Meals said staff across the department’s seven regions are spending about 47 percent of all their work time dealing with chronic wasting disease. In two regions, CWD work accounts for 70 percent of staff time, he added.
Yearly cost to the agency is about $1.7 million, he said.
Others are paying more because of CWD than before, too.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture no longer subsidizes the cost of having deer – from farms, killed by hunters or collected as roadkills – tested, Shultz added. The Game Commission and deer farmers must cover those fees, though Shultz said the department offers that testing at or below cost.
In the Game Commission’s case, that surveillance cost about $517,000 in fiscal year 2013, said veterinarian Justin Brown.
Money is an issue in other ways, too.
When a farm is placed under quarantine, the clock starts ticking, Shultz said. A quarantine order limiting what someone can do with his deer can remain in effect for only five years. After that, the order is considered “a taking,” he said.
The USDA has money to pay for deer that are, by state order, euthanized or “taken.” But that pool is limited, Shultz said.
The USDA budgets about $1 million annually for indemnity claims from deer farmers, he said. But that doesn’t go far, he suggested.
One farm in Iowa – which was under quarantine for two years – got $917,000 alone, for example, he said. By the time a deal was reached, Shultz said, 80 percent of its roughly 356 deer had contracted the disease.
Right now, with three farms – one each in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio – in negotiations for euthanizing their herds, there’s only about $190,000 left in the indemnity fund, Shultz said.
So even though CWD can persist in the soil for years, and animals con theoretically continue to spread the disease so long as they remain alive, “those depopulations are likely to proceed slowly,” he added.