The battle to control chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Pennsylvania is expanding into new areas.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission maintains three Disease Management Areas across the state to control CWD. They are geographic regions featuring special rules for hunters and the general public meant to slow the disease’s spread while increasing chances of detecting it.
And now all three are larger than before.
The reason why is simple: more sick deer showing up in more places.
According to Andrea Korman, the agency’s CWD biologist, the Game Commission tested 15,686 free-ranging deer and 161 free-ranging elk in 2019. The vast majority of those were hunter-harvested animals.
Of the total, 204 white-tailed deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The top three counties for CWD-positive deer were Bedford County (99 new cases), Fulton County (56 new cases) and Blair County (30 new cases). Other counties that had at least one CWD-positive deer included Cambria, Franklin, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Somerset and Westmoreland.
Once again, no elk were found with CWD.
With 2019’s new cases, there now have been 453 CWD-positive free-ranging deer found in Pennsylvania since the disease’s emergence in the state in 2012.
Even more notable than the total number of new cases, though, is where CWD-positive deer were discovered. Several were found on the fringes of, or even outside of, existing DMA boundaries.
That’s why the Disease Management Areas grew.
When CWD is detected, a 10-mile radius buffer is created around the CWD-positive deer. This buffer is then used as a reference when defining DMA boundaries with roads and waterways. If infected deer are found near an existing boundary, the Game Commission’s management strategy calls for expanding the Disease Management Area accordingly to account for that new detection.
DMA 2, for example, which accounted for 200 of last year’s new cases of CWD, is now approximately 7,470 square miles. That’s up from 6,715 last year. It expanded west into Westmoreland County as the result of a CWD-positive adult doe struck by a vehicle, northwest into Cambria and Indiana counties as the result of CWD-positive captive deer facilities, and north into Centre County and Mifflin, Union, and Snyder counties as the result of two CWD-positive adult bucks picked up as roadkills.
DMA 2 now covers all or portions of Indiana, Cambria, Clearfield, Centre, Union, Snyder, Blair, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Somerset, Bedford, Fulton, Franklin, and Adams counties.
DMA 3, meanwhile, accounted for four of last year’s new CWD cases and is now approximately 1,233 square miles. That’s up from 1,119 a year ago.
It expanded southwest into Jefferson, Indiana, and Armstrong counties because of a CWD-positive yearling buck killed on the road. It now covers portions of Jefferson, Clearfield, Indiana, Armstrong, and Clarion counties.
DMA 4 is also larger than a year ago. That’s not because of any sick free-ranging deer, however. None have ever been found there.
Rather, testing done by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture – which has responsibility for deer and other cervids behind fences – revealed another captive deer with chronic wasting disease.
As a result of this newest find, DMA 4 is now about 743 square miles, up from 346 a year ago. It expanded south into Lancaster County and now covers portions of Berks, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties.
As for the special rules within Disease Management Areas, it’s illegal to move high-risk parts outside their boundaries. High-risk parts include the head (more specifically the brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; 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 are also prohibited from using natural urine-based attractants. Feeding of deer is prohibited, too.
DMAP within DMAs
Hunters will notice a change in their opportunities to harvest deer within Disease Management Areas this fall.
In years past, the Pennsylvania Game Commission offered Deer Management Assistance Program, or DMAP, permits within DMAs. Most of those are going away this fall.
But that’s because of changes to seasons.
“At the April 2020 Commission meeting, Game Commission staff recommended and the board of commissioners approved increased antlerless licenses in Wildlife Management Units where CWD had been detected. In addition, the board of commissioners approved a 14-day concurrent firearms season for antlered and antlerless deer in these WMUs to provide more hunting opportunity,” said Christopher Rosenberry, the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section Supervisor. “The antlerless deer license increases and concurrent seasons in these areas eliminate the need for DMAP permits in CWD areas. Because of this, most DMAP units from past years, created specifically for CWD management, have been eliminated.”
That said, some CWD-related DMAP permits may be available in August.
The Game Commission’s CWD Response Plan will be presented to the Board of Game Commissioners at the July 2020 meeting for consideration. If the board votes to accept the Response Plan, a number of “Enhanced Surveillance Units” will be established in areas where DMA boundaries have been expanded. Within Enhanced Surveillance Units, additional DMAP permits will be available to increase opportunities for hunters to harvest deer and provide samples for CWD testing.
“Details on availability of DMAP permits within Enhanced Surveillance Units will be released by Aug. 1,” Rosenberry said.
About chronic wasting disease
CWD is an always-fatal brain disease that affects members of the cervid family including deer, elk and moose. There is no live-animal test for it and no cure.
First identified in Colorado in 1967, it has now been found in 26 states and four Canadian provinces.
Misfolded proteins called prions are believed to cause chronic wasting disease. Infected deer spread the disease to other animals and the environment by shedding prions through saliva, urine and feces.
Symptoms include lowered head and ears, weight loss, excessive drooling, rough-hair coat, uncoordinated movements, and, ultimately, death. But on average, infected individuals don’t display symptoms for 18 to 24 months.
To date, CWD has not been found to infect humans. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people avoid eating meat from CWD-infected animals.
More information on CWD can be found at https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/Wildlife-RelatedDiseases/Pages/ChronicWastingDisease.aspx.