2019-03-09 / Outdoors


CWD spreads; now, it’s personal

Elsewhere in this edition you will see information about a very serious issue. We’ve known for many years that chronic wasting disease (CWD) was a threat to our deer and elk populations. But now, it hits close to home.

When the Game Commission confirmed that it had verified a CWD-infected whitetail traced to a deer farm near Curwensville, the risk became all-too-real for the Pennsylvania Wilds. PGC’s Disease Management Area 3 was expanded into a section of our elk range.

We learned that the deer was born and raised in an area of Fulton County where wild deer have tested positive for CWD for several years. A month prior to being shot, the CWD-positive buck was been shipped alive to Clearfield County.

That pen-raised buck was then killed by someone paying to shoot it within the high-fence area. The deer had shown no clinical signs of CWD. A doe on the Fulton County farm also tested positive for the disease.

Even though the Game Commission prohibits the movement of high-risk wild deer parts from disease management areas, its hands are tied when it comes to regulating the transportation of captive-raised deer.

Executive Director Bryan Burhans recently confessed to state legislators, “Because high-fence hunting operations don’t abide by our regulations, we do not know where these CWD-positive carcasses ended up.”

While private game farms and high-fence deer shooting operations fall outside Game Commission jurisdiction, the Pa. Dept. of Agriculture does conduct mandatory surveillance for all 874 of these facilities. However, it does not prohibit the movement of healthy deer between operations.

Since deer can carry and spread CWD for a considerable period of time before showing symptoms, it is nearly impossible to prevent the transfer of an infected deer. As illogical as it may seem, no rules are in place to prohibit the transportation of captive deer from a breeding facility – even those located within a disease management area.

To complicate matters, testing for CWD cannot be conducted on a live deer.

So far, CWD has been found in wild deer in only nine Pennsylvania counties. It is here to stay.

We can slow its dispersion so that it will be decades before it affects all areas of the state. However, this is impossible to do when the disease keeps popping up behind our battle lines in penned deer farms. It’s time for the state legislature to adopt stricter regulations and enforce them.

We should all be upset that a captive deer with CWD was moved from a disease management area to an area of the state free of the disease. Our hunting heritage is at stake and so is the health of our most beloved game animal.

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