More CWD detected in southwestern Pennsylvania


Harrisburg, Pa. — Four more wild deer that died late last year in southwestern Pennsylvania tested positive for chronic wasting disease and the Game Commission is expanding its disease management area.

Those deer – two killed by hunters last fall and two roadkills, one in late summer and one in early winter – brought to 12 the number of CWD positives discovered in wild deer in 2015, according to commission press secretary Travis Lau.

A total of 22 free-ranging deer in Pennsylvania have tested positive in Pennsylvania since 2012.

The wild deer infected with the always-fatal-to-deer-and-elk malady died in Bedford and Blair counties, most in the Interstate 99 corridor.

The Game Commission tested nearly 3,000 hunter-killed deer  around the state (and about 100 elk) and those tests were all negative except for the two from Disease Management Area 2, Lau noted.

Brain tissue samples from Pennsylvania deer are initially screened at the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory operated by the state Department of Agriculture in Harrisburg, and suspected positive samples are sent to the USDA’s National Animal Disease Center, in Ames, Iowa, for confirmation.

Responding to the finding of the four new CWD positive deer, the commission is enlarging its Disease Management Area 2 by 437.4 square miles, making it 2,845.4 square miles.

By pushing out the boundary, the disease management area adds parts of two more counties: Clearfield and Franklin. Beside  Bedford and Blair, the area also includes parts of Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset.

In a decision made by commissioners in late April on the advice of agency deer biologists, the commission will try to issue 14,500 special Disease Management Area 2 tags to lower deer numbers and slow the spread of CWD.

Also, commissioners continue to ponder targeted, intensive deer culls in Disease Management Area 2 in the Interstate 99 corridor and other places when new cases of CWD in deer are discovered.

Lau said the question now, after finding a dozen more CWD cases, is where do we go from here?

“There has been some talk in recent meetings about targeted removal of family groups. It sounds like we are still trying to get support for that idea,” he said.

Would hunters and lawmakers endorse deer culls of dozens or more animals, commissioners have wondered. They may not have a choice.

“Maybe, even though we will issue 14,500 disease management area permits this year, that will be something we will be moving away from rather than continuing to do it,” Lau added.

“Because it seems states that are going to targeted removal are having success keeping CWD prevalence down.”

Determining the prevalence of CWD among deer in Disease Management Area 2 – or even the Interstate 99 corridor – is not a simple matter. “It is a question of what our ideal confidence interval is going to be. We would have to collect many more samples than we have been collecting to have a less than 1 percent confidence interval,” Lau said.

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