Hunters harvesting deer in areas of Pennsylvania where chronic wasting disease has been found will need to comply with special rules during the upcoming hunting seasons.
But the Pennsylvania Game Commission for the 2013-14 seasons has removed the requirement for successful hunters within a Disease Management Area to take their harvests to a check station where samples can be collected for disease testing.
Instead, the Game Commission will use other methods to determine how prevalent the disease might be in areas where it has been found.
The changes correspond with changing circumstances in Pennsylvania regarding chronic wasting disease (CWD), a disease that always is fatal to deer, elk and moose but that is not known to be transmitted to humans.
When CWD first was detected in Pennsylvania in captive deer at an Adams County facility in 2012, there was no evidence any of the state’s free-ranging deer had been impacted by the disease. Intensive monitoring efforts that included requirements for certain Pennsylvania hunters to take their harvests to check stations were intended to determine whether CWD might have spread from the captive to the free-ranging deer population.
Since that time, however, positive CWD test results have been returned in relation to three free-ranging deer harvested by hunters in Blair and Bedford counties.
And now that CWD has been found among some of the state’s free-ranging deer, the Game Commission must focus on managing the disease rather than trying to prevent it, said Calvin DuBrock, director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management.
“Now that we know CWD is in the wild, our mission is to determine how prevalent it is in the areas in which it’s been found and to do what we can to slow its spread,” DuBrock said. “We have already begun collecting and testing samples to give us a clearer picture of the disease’s impact, and we will be asking hunters within the state’s two Disease Management Areas to comply with special rules, but there won’t be quite so many demands on hunters this year in relation to our monitoring.”
Hunting within Disease Management Areas
Special rules apply to hunters and residents within the state’s two Disease Management Areas (DMAs).
DMA 1 encompasses an about 600-square-mile area that includes parts of York and Adams counties. DMA 2 – which was established earlier this year as a result of CWD positives in free-ranging deer – spans nearly 900 square miles in parts of Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon and Cambria counties.
Detailed maps of those DMAs, which form their borders along roads and water courses, are available online at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us, and also appear on pages 53 and 54 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.
Those hunting within either DMA need to know that deer carcass parts determined to have a high risk of transmitting CWD cannot be removed from the DMA.
High-risk parts include the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and any lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.
The meat from harvested deer may be removed from the DMAs, so long as it does not contain any high-risk parts. Hunters also may remove from the DMAs any cleaned skull plates with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present; capes, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present; and finished taxidermy mounts.
The use of urine-based deer attractants is prohibited within the DMAs, as is the direct or indirect feeding of wild, free-ranging deer.
Those who hunt within a DMA, but who live in another area, need to plan what they will do with any deer they harvest within the DMA.
Harvested deer can be taken to any cooperating processor or taxidermist associated with the DMA, and the processed meat or finished taxidermy mounts can be removed from the DMA when they are ready.
Hunters who want to process their own deer may remove the meat from the carcass and dispose of any high-risk parts at dumpsters to be set up at locations within the DMAs.
Proper disposal of high-risk parts is important because CWD can be transmitted from deer to deer through both direct and indirect contact, and dumping high-risk parts in areas where free-ranging deer might be exposed to them increases the risk of spreading the disease.
Sampling for CWD
The Game Commission has continued disease sampling on road-killed deer within the DMAs for the last several months, and the agency will collect some samples during the upcoming deer archery season. But the bulk of samples are likely to be collected during the regular two-week firearms season for deer, which opens Dec. 2.
The commission has set a goal of collecting 1,000 samples from each DMA. DuBrock said that testing 2,000 samples will provide biologists with a solid indication of how prevalent the disease is where it is known to have existed.
The Game Commission intends to stop sampling after it reaches the benchmarks.
The Game Commission will notify hunters of any deer that are sampled and test positive for CWD. However, hunters should understand that their deer, even when taken to a cooperating processor or taxidermist, might not be tested for the disease.
Some hunters might want to know for certain that a deer they harvest will be tested for CWD, and the only way to assure the animal will be tested is to take the harvested deer’s head to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture laboratory in Harrisburg. Transporting a deer head for disease testing is a permitted exception to the prohibition on removing high-risk parts from the DMA. Before transport, the head should be placed in a plastic garbage bag, with that bag then placed in a second plastic garbage bag.
Other high-risk parts should not be removed from a DMA and should be disposed of properly within the DMA instead.
Hunters who have their deer tested by the Department of Agriculture will need to pay a fee. Those interested in testing should call the Department of Agriculture at 717-787-8808 before making a trip there. More information about this process can be found by clicking on the CWD link of the Department of Agriculture’s website, www.agriculture.state.pa.us.
Chronic wasting disease is not known to be transmitted to humans; however, out of an abundance of caution, hunters are advised not to eat the meat from animals that test positive.
Hunters also are urged to never shoot deer that appear sick. Instead, deer that appear unhealthy should be reported to the nearest Game Commission regional office. Game Commission officers will investigate such reports.
Disposal of high-risk parts
While using a cooperating processor or taxidermist does not guarantee hunters that the deer they harvest will be tested for CWD, it does assure that the high-risk parts from harvests are given proper disposal.
Because CWD is transmitted from deer to deer both directly and indirectly, and because the prion that causes CWD can live in the soil – perhaps forever, hunters should never dump high-risk deer parts anywhere living deer might come in contact with them. Doing so only increases the risk of further spreading the disease.
Instead, hunters should make certain all high-risk deer parts make their way to a landfill for disposal.
Cooperating processors and taxidermists who are contracted by hunters for their services have pledged to properly dispose of high-risk parts. A list of cooperating processors and taxidermists is available at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us and will be updated regularly with any changes.
Some of the cooperating processors and taxidermists associated with either DMA might be located just beyond the DMA’s border. Hunters harvesting deer within the DMA may use those processors – this is another permitted exception to the prohibition on removal of high-risk parts. In such cases, deer should be taken directly from the DMA to the cooperating processor or taxidermist.
Hunters who process their own deer can dispose of high-risk parts by bagging them with other trash that’s destined for a landfill. Hunters within the DMAs also can take high-risk parts to one of four sites on state game lands – two in each DMA – where dumpsters will be set up to collect high-risk parts.
Collection sites in DMA 1 will be at State Game Lands 242 and State Game Lands 249, and in DMA 2, sites will be set up at State Game Lands 147 and State Game Lands 41.
Dumpsters at those sites will be available for use from the first day of the archery deer season until the close of the flintlock muzzleloader season (Oct. 2 to Jan. 11).
The exact locations of dumpsters can be found on the Game Commission’s website.
Information on CWD
Four public meetings have been scheduled – two in each DMA – to explain the rules that apply to hunters and to answer general questions about CWD.
The first meeting was on Sept. 17 in York County, and meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 25 at Spring Cove Middle School, 185 Spring Garden Drive in Roaring Spring, Blair County; on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at Bermudian Springs High School, 7335 Carlisle Pike in York Springs, Adams County; and on Monday, Oct. 28 at Northern Bedford High School, 152 NBC Drive in Loysburg, Bedford County.
All meetings start at about 6:15 p.m.
While chronic wasting disease is new to Pennsylvania, it is not a new disease. CWD first was discovered in 1967, and it has been researched since. Scientists believe CWD is caused by an unknown agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form.
There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, nor is there a vaccine. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death. There currently is no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to humans, either through contact with infected animals or by eating meat of infected animals.
Much more information on CWD, as well as a video showing hunters how they can process venison for transport and consumption, is available at the Game Commission’s website.
Wildlife officials have suggested hunters in areas where chronic wasting disease (CWD) is known to exist follow these usual recommendations to prevent the possible spread of disease:
– Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears sick; contact the state wildlife agency if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
– Wear rubber or latex gloves when field-dressing carcasses.
– Bone out the meat from your animal.
– Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
– Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field-dressing is completed.
– Request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal, or process your own meat if you have the tools and ability to do so.
– Have your animal processed in the endemic area of the state where it was harvested, so that high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of there. Only bring permitted materials back to Pennsylvania
– Don’t consume the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will help remove remaining lymph nodes.)
– Consider not consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.