Pennsylvania must find a way to win battle against CWD
Pennsylvania has a battle on its hands to save our deer and elk herds from the horror of chronic wasting disease.
In basic terms, CWD is a malformed protein (which is then termed a prion) that attacks the nervous system of infected animals. From that point, the disease begins to cause a slow but steady path toward the animals’ death without any chance of recovery.
Although many photos exist that show a sickly animal with the usual symptoms of a thin body and a drooping head, experts say that such conditions are rarely seen in the wild.
Rather, the most common problem that first becomes apparent for infected animals is the loss of awareness. This means the animal is more likely to be hit on roads, become an easier target for predators and much more likely to fall to a hunter than a normal healthy animal. Add to this that pneumonia also becomes a worry.
Since these infected animals may die any time of year, and those deaths are often spread across varying types of land areas — including road kills — and without anyone ever knowing the cause of death in a discovered carcass that is not tested for CWD, it is easy to understand why few deaths to CWD are ever established beyond testing every dead deer.
Checking harvested deer within a diseased zone helps to determine the prevalence of infection in that area, as does testing road kills within those management areas. That’s what the Pennsylvania Game Commission currently does. Most certainly, that data is considerably helpful in the fight against CWD.
Without a doubt, the main goal of managing CWD — which is difficult — is to reduce the spread. Deer-to-deer transfer, crowding among food sources and prions left at feeding areas are all ways CWD is spread.
Implementing plans such as testing captive deer before any transfer of these animals, and protecting caged animals by means of wide spaced double fences, are good ideas. Reducing crowding at feeding areas is also a helpful move. But the best way to fight the disease in wild populations is targeted removal.
Yet, any measure in this battle will require good science, but good science takes both time and money. It also takes public support, the sharing of information by states and governmental involvement in the fight.
Silly ideas from pseudo scientists that are often found on social media and Internet message boards are not the answer. It will take a strong group of people supporting trained professionals to help solve this problem. There is no other way.
If we don’t win this battle against CWD, prepare for wild places without deer. That would be a terrible loss.