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Incidence of CWD in Pennsylvania deer doubles

Written by Jim Hook/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Jan 19, 2018 6:33 PM
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The Pennsylvania Game Commission plans to expand DMA 2 in Franklin County. (Photo: File / The Daily News)

(Harrisburg) -- The incidence of chronic wasting disease in the state's wild deer has doubled this year, according to preliminary test results from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Fifty-one deer harvested by hunters during Pennsylvania's 2017-18 seasons have tested positive for CWD, a disease fatal to deer and elk.

"Our numbers are definitely growing," said Bert Einodshofer, wildlife conservation officer supervisor in the Game Commission's southcentral region. "All in all it stayed in the endemic area of southern Blair, Bedford and Fulton counties."

Final results will not be in for another month or two.

Hunters dropped off more than 1,500 deer heads for free CWD testing at boxes located in the disease management areas, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. About 1,000 samples have been tested, and the results reported to individual hunters.

It's taking about six weeks to get results. Labs are backed up testing deer from several states.

Testing also has not been completed on the more than 3,000 random samples that Game Commission staff collected from processors around the state. Those results will be available in February or March, according to Einodshofer.

Franklin County was added to DMA 2 this past season. The Game Commission regularly adjusts DMA boundaries in relation to newly detected CWD-positive animals.

Wayne Laroche, the Game Commission's special assistant for CWD response, said the agency will use the incoming test results to determine how best to confront CWD.

The Game Commission last year teamed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a CWD surveillance effort in Fulton County. Sharpshooters removed 30 deer. One CWD-positive deer was detected.

"By developing a control program where we go into these hot spots and remove the animals with a greater likelihood of carrying the disease," Laroche said, "we might stand our best chance of controlling CWD on a larger scale, while minimizing the impact on the larger deer population or diminishing deer hunting opportunities."

To date in Pennsylvania, CWD has been detected in 98 free-ranging deer.

In 2016 about 5,700 whitetails were tested for CWD with 25 testing positive - all of them in or near DMA 2, the only area of the state where CWD has been detected in the wild.

Hunters in 2017-18 dropped off more than 700 deer heads at DMA 2 boxes, according to Einodshofer.

"That's a huge jump for volunteer samples compared to years past," he said.

He attributes the increased participation to more stories about CWD appearing in the media.

Free testing offered hunters a way to have their deer tested prior to consuming it.
Hunters whose deer test positive for CWD are notified personally by the wildlife conservation officer nearest their homes, Einodshofer said. Positives from a quick, initial test are confirmed in a second test.

Hunters whose deer test negative are notified by mail.

The free testing also gave additional samples to the Game Commission so the agency can better pinpoint and address hot spots, according to a Game Commission spokesman.

CWD is spread from deer to deer through direct and indirect contact. The disease attacks the brains of infected deer, elk and moose, and will eventually result in the death of the infected animal. There is no live test for CWD and no known cure.

There also is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans, however, it is recommended the meat of infected deer - or deer thought to be sick - not be consumed.

Other states have decades of dealing with CWD in the wild. CWD was first was detected in Pennsylvania in 2012 at a captive deer facility and was soon after detected in free-ranging deer.

For more information on CWD and DMAs visit www.pgc.state.pa.us. Click on the button titled "CWD Information" near the top of the page.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Chambersburg Public Opinion

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