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Update on Chronic Wasting Disease

Even nonhunters have heard about chronic wasting disease (CWD), which affects the brain and nervous system of infected deer, elk and moose, eventually resulting in death. CWD-infected deer, on average, do not display clinical symptoms of disease for 18 to 24 months.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has been working hard to spread the word about CWD, by providing information on its website and in a series of informational presentations around the state. The PGC has developed a management plan, and the deadline for public comment on the plan is the end of this month.

If you’re not concerned about CWD, you should be. CWD has caused declines in deer populations in areas where CWD prevalence (the percentage of animals infected) is high. In Wisconsin, where 55 percent of adult male white-tailed deer are infected with CWD, research showed that 75 percent of infected deer died within the first year.

CWD has continued to spread in PA since it was first detected in 2012 in a captive deer facility in Adams County, and in three wild deer in Blair and Bedford counties. In 2018, 123 new positives were detected. The Disease Management Areas (DMA) for CWD now covers more than 8,000 square miles.

Data from other states with CWD show that with no change in management actions, CWD prevalence will likely exceed 30 percent in the center of DMA 2 in the next 10 to 20 years. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and PA is drawing on success stories from other states for guidance.

For example, with quick and aggressive management actions, New York and Minnesota were able to eliminate CWD in local areas after initial detection. For over 15 years, Illinois has been able to maintain CWD prevalence at low levels through persistent management actions.

The CWD management plan can be viewed via the PGC website, and there’s a place at the end to add comments. Here are the basic elements of the plan:

New, Isolated Cases - After initial detection of CWD in new areas, hunters will be given the first opportunity to harvest more deer and collect more CWD samples for testing. The management objective in these new areas is to eliminate the disease before it becomes established in the deer population or in the environment (e.g. soil). A CWD Control Unit will be created, which will be a 3-mile radius area surrounding the new detection.

The PGC will work with local hunters and landowners to collect a minimum number of samples to be confident of the true extent of the disease. Possible steps include increasing the number of deer tags, expanding hunting season lengths, removing antler point restrictions and agency-directed targeted removals of deer if management objectives are no

CWD Established Areas - In areas where CWD is established (within 10 miles of other positive cases and greater than 1 percent prevalence for consecutive years), the management objective is to maintain CWD prevalence below 5 percent. This area would currently include Blair, Bedford, Fulton counties and immediately surrounding areas. The possible steps to be taken are the same as steps for new, isolated cases.

To comment on the plan, go to www.pgc.pa.gov. Click on the tab for CWD.

The captive deer-raising industry is big business in Pennsylvania and all over the country. The first case of CWD detected in Pennsylvania was on a captive deer farm in Adams County. LISA PRICE/TIMES NEWS