Targeted shooting finds a CWD-positive white-tailed deer

Harrisburg — Now what?

After 18 months of talking about it, the Pennsylvania Game Commission – working together with other state and federal agencies – did some “targeted shooting” of deer within Disease Management Area 2 in southcentral Pennsylvania. Thirty deer were killed over two nights.

According to Wayne Laroche, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, the animals were shot “in the immediate vicinity” of a deer farm in Bedford County that had, according to the state Department of Agriculture, a deer die of chronic wasting disease earlier this year.

All were tested for chronic wasting disease.

Laroche told commission board members at their recent meeting that the hope was that all 30 would test negative for the always-fatal ailment.

“No positives, that will provide no evidence that the CWD prevalence differs from the rest of the DMA. Which, hopefully, that’s the way it comes back,” Laroche said.

“On the other hand, if we get one or more positives, that suggests that we have a higher-than-expected level of CWD prevalence in that location.”

Testing revealed one of the animals in fact had the disease.

Travis Lau, press secretary for the commission, said tissue samples from the animal were tested twice using what’s known as an “elisa” test. That’s one that offers the quickest turnaround, with results available in as little as three or four days, Laroche said.

It’s also a test prone to giving false positive results in about 30 percent of cases.

For that reason, when the first elisa test showed positive for this particular deer, it was tested again. It tested positive a second time, Lau said.

The sample was then tested using another method by the state Department of Agriculture. It turned up positive that way, too.

The sample has since been sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Sciences Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for what is considered the “gold standard” of testing.

But the commission isn’t waiting. It’s convinced enough to have decided that the deer in fact had CWD, Lau said.

What that means is the question.

Laroche told commissioners at their meeting that finding even one sick deer would require action.

Part of that, he said, would mean stepping up sampling in the area of hunter-killed and road-killed deer. Beyond that, he added, the commission would likely have to shoot more deer using sharpshooters.

That’s because its current level of testing is inadequate, he said.

“We’re not going to be able to have any effect unless we actually remove animals from that population at a greater-than-random level, sick animals, from that population,” Laroche said. “So we’re going to have to shoot deer.”

When, is the question.

Lau said it’s likely not soon.

“I don’t know what they’re likely to do. But I think for this year they might be done,” Lau said. “My belief, and everything I’ve heard, is that further controls will take place next year.”

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