2018-03-10 / Outdoors


CWD spread traced to ‘deer farms’

With apologies for writing about the same topic too frequently, I do want to provide an update on the Pa. Game Commission’s efforts to slow the spread of the dreaded chronic wasting disease that threatens our deer and elk populations.

Most recently, PGC formed a fourth “disease management area” encompassing Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks counties. That came after CWD was discovered in a captive deer from Lancaster County.

PGC Executive Director Bryan Burhans said the danger is real and his agency is taking the threat seriously:

“To this point, CWD has been detected in captive or free-ranging deer only in a few, isolated areas of the state. We will continue to focus our resources on ways to minimize CWD’s impacts statewide.”

In the four disease management areas, the Game Commission checks all hunter-killed deer and deer killed by motor vehicles for CWD. Since no free-ranging deer in the fourth management area have been diagnosed with CWD, the agency is hoping the captive deer is the only victim.

Transport of heads and spinal columns from deer killed in the disease management areas are prohibited. Additionally, the intentional feeding of deer is prohibited and hunters may not use urine-based deer attractants.

What is lacking throughout our state is a concerted effort to control one of the main causes of CWD’s spread -- the transport of deer between captive herds, namely deer farms.

Chronic wasting disease originated in captive deer. In nearly all cases of the disease showing up in new areas of North America, it started at a deer farm and then spread into wild herds.

Captive deer programs are big business. The people who shoot the big-racked bucks being bred by these deer farms pay a lot of money for the experience. There is also an economic benefit for the communities where these captive deer operations are located, too.

CWD is here to stay in Pennsylvania. It will continue to spread, but it still may take decades for it to reach certain parts of Penn’s Woods. The Game Commission is doing an excellent job in containing the disease in our wild herds, being vigilant, and slowing its spread as much as is humanly possible.

However, when the disease keeps crossing quarantine boundaries (that is essentially what a disease management area is) and sneaking into new areas of the state through the back door (when it shows up at captive deer farms in new areas of the state), all of the PGC’s efforts to slow the spread are undermined.

Without some major overhaul of the way captive deer breeding programs are regulated, steps being taken to control CWD are futile.

We’ll have to wait for results from the fourth disease management area. Following the 2012 detection of CWD in Adams County at a captive deer farm, Disease Management Area 1 was formed. Last year it was dissolved after five years of extensive monitoring with no evidence that the disease had spread into the wild.

Here’s hoping that five years from now the PGC can take the same action for the new Disease Management Area 4.

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