Harrisburg, Pa. — Is the Pennsylvania Game Commission doing everything it can to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease?
A couple of its board members debated that at the agency’s most recent board meeting in Harrisburg, even as word came out that more deer have tested positive for the disease and that one of the state’s disease management areas is likely to expand as a result.
Justin Brown, the commission’s wildlife veterinarian, told commissioners that five deer, all between 18 and 30 months of age, tested positive for CWD in Disease Management Area 2 this past fall. All were road-killed animals.
Four of the deer were found in close proximity to previous CWD-positive animals.
“We are starting to see clusters of positives within DMA 2, which is not surprising,” Brown said.
One, though, was found much farther south than any other sick deer. It was killed on Route 220, just north of Maryland in Bedford County.
In fact, there’s a chance the deer wandered into Pennsylvania from Maryland, which has had its own cases of CWD just 10 miles or so south of the state line, he said.
Either way, Brown said it’s likely commission staff will recommend expanding the boundaries of DMA 2 to account for that southernmost sick deer. Specifics will come later this spring, he said, after all of the CWD monitoring results are in.
Brown said the commission collected samples from 528 deer in DMA 1. Of those, 462 have come back with CWD “not detected.” Results are pending on 66 more.
In DMA 2, samples were collected from 939 deer. There have been the five positives, along with 804 “not detected.” Results are pending on 130 animals.
In DMA 3, the newest in the state, samples were collected from 229 deer. There have been “not detected” results for 173, with 56 tests pending.
The commission also collected tissue samples from the 89 hunter-killed elk from the 2014 season. CWD was not detected in any of those.
Board members had questions about the disease.
Commissioner Ron Weaner asked about captive deer, and whether the state Department of Agriculture – which has authority for farmed deer – is doing all it can to keep CWD contained behind fences.
Brown said the department is mirroring the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations in regard to CWD, and requiring all herds to be either a monitored or certified herd. Deer in monitored herds can be moved only within state; those from certified herds can be moved across state borders.
Weaner wasn’t convinced that’s enough.
“To me, when you describe this on the surface, we’re getting no help,” he said. “To me, one of the biggest hurdles is, how do you enforce all of these regulations, in an agency that is inherently not an enforcement agency.”
Two other commissioners debated what the commission should be doing.
Brian Hoover, of Delaware County, asked about the use or deer urine by hunters.
There’s been talk – some of it sparked by the commission’s own staff – about whether it should be banned everywhere because of the potential for it to spread CWD via prions contained within it.
He suggested there’s no proof of the disease being spread by urine. Rather, he said calls to ban it are largely based on “potential.”
Brown said that while there’s no direct proof – no smoking gun – showing urine caused an outbreak of the disease, there are no regulations in place either regarding urine collection, processing, or marketing. No one knows where the urine bottled and sitting on store shelves came from, he said.
“The risk is there,” Brown said.
Commissioner Jay Delaney agreed, and pointed out what he called a “double standard.”
It’s illegal to use deer urine inside one of Pennsylvania’s disease management areas, where CWD has already popped up. But hunters can use it outside of those areas, in the very places the agency wants to keep it from going.
That makes no sense, Delaney said.
“I think we’re doing almost everything we can to stop the spread of that disease. But in my opinion, we have one more thing that we could do, and we’re not doing it,” he said.