Chronic Wasting Disease was first detected in 1967 in Colorado in a captive mule deer research facility in Colorado.
Since then the problem has been growing as it spreads across the U.S. from west to east. In states where CWD has been detected, a number of protocols have been used.
Some control measures have worked to slow the spread of CWD while others have been described as less than effective.
In Pennsylvania we have a unique situation with two regulatory agencies overseeing deer. The PA Game Commission regulates the wild deer population, while the PA Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over captive deer.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2012 at a captive deer farm in Adams County.
In response and to help safeguard the wild deer population, the PGC established Disease Management Area 1 (DMA 1) in Adams and York counties in which restrictions regarding the hunting and feeding of deer were applied.
CWD was detected among free-ranging deer a few months later, in three free ranging deer harvested by hunters in Bedford and Blair counties during the 2012 firearms’ season. The deer were detected through the Game Commission’s ongoing CWD surveillance program. The CWD positives prompted the creation of DMA 2.
In 2014, CWD was detected at a captive deer farm in Jefferson County, leading to the creation of DMA 3. More recently additional CWD positives were detected in DMA 2 in Bedford Co.
Deer harvested within any of the DMA areas comes under a number of restrictions.
High-risk carcass parts include: The head (including brain, tonsils, eyes, and lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone (vertebra); spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft material is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord material; and brain-tanned hide.
Hunters living outside the DMA and are processing the deer themselves must remove and properly dispose of the high-risk parts before the meat is removed from the DMA.
In late September the PGC announced that hunters will be able to have the deer they harvest tested for CWD, provided they are taken within an established disease management area. This service will be provided to hunters that lawfully take a deer in the Disease Management Areas at no charge to participating hunters.
The Game Commission has installed large metal bins at 26 locations for the collection of harvested deer heads within DMA’s 2 and 3. The bins are similar to those used for clothing donations, however they have distinctive PGC markings. The containers will be checked and emptied every other day through the deer-hunting seasons.
The exact locations of all collection sites is available on the Chronic Wasting Disease page at www.pgc.pa.gov.
The bins are for the collection of deer heads only, and all heads submitted for testing must be lawfully tagged, with the harvest tag legibly completed, and attached to the deer’s ear.
The information on the tag is needed in order to notify the hunter with test results.
All heads deposited in collection bins should be placed in a plastic bag then tied shut. By doing so it will help to ensure the tag remains with the head, which is important for test-notification purposes. The head can be bagged before being brought to the bin or hunters can use the bags provided at bins.
The skulls and antlers from heads submitted for testing will not be returned.
Hunters who harvest antlered deer within a DMA may remove the antlers before depositing the head in the bin.
All deer heads retrieved from the bins will be tested for CWD. Hunters submitting heads for testing will be notified of the results, likely within two weeks of drop-off.
The purpose of this initiative is twofold. Deer that are identified as CWD positive will be identified and the hunter notified against consuming the meat. The testing will also help the Game Commission assess and monitor the progress of CWD within the disease management areas. This will also help the PGC to evaluate the effectiveness of current and or future management actions.
Hunters harvesting deer outside the DMA’s and who want to have their deer tested can do so for a fee. Hunters must contact the PA Department of Agriculture regarding testing protocol via their web site at www.agriculture.pa.gov.
Hunters using professional meat processors within a DMA must employ the services of an approved processor within the Disease Management Area.
A complete listing of approved deer processors and taxidermists can be found on the PGC’s web site at www.pgc.pa.gov/LOCATIONS%20OF%20Cooperating%20Deer%20Processors%20a...Copy and paste the entire address into the search engine of your computer and the full list will come up.
Deer meat may be transported outside a DMA provided the backbone and high risk parts have been removed.
Antlers may also be transported from a DMA if the skull plate is free of visible brain material.
The restrictions placed on the movement of high risk parts is important.
Regulations prohibit the removal from any Disease Management Area (DMA) any high-risk parts from deer and elk (cervids) harvested or those killed by vehicular accident.
Regulations also prohibit the importation of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed in other areas where CWD has been detected.
CWD has been detected in both captive, and free ranging deer, the Game Commission’s goal is to prevent the spread of CWD within the wild deer population in state.
Many states, including PA, have developed regulations to prohibit the importation of high-risk carcass parts from states and provinces that are or may be infected with CWD.
So which carcass parts are safe to move? According to the PA Game Commission, the following cervid parts may be safely transported into PA. They include: meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached; cleaned hides without the head; skull plates and/or antlers cleaned of all brain tissue; upper canine teeth without soft tissue; or finished taxidermy mounts.
Also these parts may be moved out of Pennsylvania’s Disease Management Areas.
The Center for Disease Control notes that CWD has never been found to have infected humans. However the CDC advises not to eat the meat of an animal tested positive for CWD or that appears to be diseased.
The Center for Disease Control recommends that people DO NOT eat meat from animals that test positive for CWD.
It is important for hunters who harvest deer in the wild within a DMA to have it tested. Just the peace of mind is well worth the time and effort to submit your deer for testing.
Secondly the testing information will provide the PGC a broad view of the prevalence and distribution of CWD within the disease management areas.
The PA Game Commission is being proactive regarding CWD, now it’s the sportsmen’s turn to help. Simply put, if you harvest a deer in a DMA, then have the deer tested.
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Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net