In Pennsylvania, trophy elk euthanized after wandering into disease management area

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A trophy bull elk that recently wandered south of Interstate 80 and into a chronic wasting disease (CWD) management area was euthanized by a wildlife conservation officer to ensure it would not bring CWD back to the elk range, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The 8- by 9-point bull has been submitted for disease testing, and results are pending.

The elk had drifted outside of Pennsylvania’s Elk Management Area, a more than 3,500-square-mile area spread over parts of nine counties, and into Disease Management Area 3. The Game Commission established DMA 3 in parts of Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties to enhance surveillance, ban baiting and feeding of deer and elk and restrict the movement of high-risk parts out of the area where the disease might exist.

The first case of CWD within DMA 3 was found at a captive deer farm in 2014. The first case of CWD in the wild was found in June 2017, raising concerns that CWD could be spread north to the adjacent elk range.

Elk normally stay north of Interstate 80, which has historically been the southern boundary of the Commonwealth’s Elk Management Area. This elk drifted south across Interstate 80 and had been seen on several occasions less than 10 miles from where the wild, free-ranging CWD-positive antlered deer was euthanized June 7 on State Game Lands 87 in Clearfield County.

This raised concern the elk might be exposed to CWD within DMA 3 and carry it back to the elk range, where cows soon will be attracting bulls as the breeding season begins.

The elk was euthanized Aug. 7. If tests performed on the elk detect no CWD, the meat will be provided to families in need.

“It’s never an easy decision to put down an elk,” said Wayne Laroche, the agency’s special assistant for CWD. “But we feel it is wise to proactively remove potentially infected animals before the disease progresses and other animals are possibly exposed. By taking immediate action, we hope to stop or slow CWD’s spread.”

The likelihood this elk would return to the Elk Management Area and interact with other elk during the pending breeding season weighed heavily in the decision to euthanize the bull, Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said.

“We acted decisively to extinguish this threat, to maintain the health of our elk herd and the whitetails that have drawn Pennsylvanians to camp country in the northern tier for centuries,” Burhans said.

Rawley Cogan, Keystone Elk Country Alliance president, agreed.

“Given the potential negative effect this bull posed to the entire elk herd, the Game Commission made the difficult, but responsible, decision to remove this animal from the population,” Cogan said. “Although not the desired outcome, it was the correct call.”

Blake Henning, chief conservation officer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation also expressed his support.

“The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation believes that CWD is a very serious issue across the country and appears to be spreading, Henning said. “We support the efforts of the Pennsylvania Game Commission to do what it feels best to reduce the spread of this disease. Individual elk may need to be removed from populations in order to reduce the likelihood of a larger number of animals coming in contact with the disease.”

In Pennsylvania, CWD has been an increasing threat. The disease also exists among wild deer in the area of southcentral Pennsylvania defined as DMA 2. Twenty-five free-ranging deer tested positive for CWD during 2016. Ten additional CWD-positive deer have been detected since, raising to 58 the total of CWD-positives detected within the DMA 2 since 2012, when CWD was first detected in Pennsylvania.

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