News

New Developments at CWD Meeting

September 16, 2019

John Zaktansky | The Daily Item

Aug. 30, 2019

Chronic wasting meeting: Second CWD-positive deer leads to more permits, discussion

At 5:35 p.m. Monday — just five minutes after the doors opened at Beavertown’s Rescue Hose Company for a 6 p.m. workshop on the threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the Valley’s deer herd — every metal folded chair was occupied.

Organizers scurried to find and set up more chairs in an attempt to accommodate at least 250 people on hand to hear Courtney Colley, Pennsylvania Game Commission CWD communications specialist, and Kip Adams, with the Quality Deer Management Association.

“I was happy to see such a great turn out,” said Colley. “It truly shows that the locals care and want to help.”

June discovery

CWD — which is a deer-based, brain-deteriorating disease that has popped up in the wild deer herd in a few places throughout the state over the past couple years — was discovered in a whitetail in Juniata County in June.

The disease, which is always fatal, can lie dormant in a deer for years before symptoms are visible and it is contagious between deer via saliva, blood, urine and fecal matter.

There is no vaccine.

There is no cure.

Since the discovery, the game commission has extended one of its Disease Management Area (DMA) through Juniata County and into southern Snyder County, reaching as far north as Route 522.

New developments

Both Colley and Adams reiterated all of this to the Monday night audience, with a few new announcements.

According to Colley, a second CWD-positive deer was found in Juniata County, just a few miles away from the Snyder County line near the town of Oriental.

Also, 1,000 Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permits are available for purchase online for DMAP unit 3907 — these are in addition to regular antlered and antlerless allocations.

This region covers a small section of eastern Juniata County where the two CWD-positive deer were found and does not extend into Snyder County at this time.

These permits can be used during the regular hunting seasons with the goal of reducing the deer herd population, which has proven to slow the spread of CWD within a wild deer herd in other states.

“We need to do what we can to eliminate CWD before it proliferates the landscape,” said Colley in a previous interview. “That isn’t always accepted well by the public, but it is shown to work in other parts of the country.”

All hunters who harvest a deer in a DMA region are encouraged to submit the head of the deer in sample collection boxes that will be scattered throughout the area during the season. Heads should be double-bagged and include the appropriate harvest tag.

This allows the game commission to test the brain for any signs of CWD, and let the hunter know if the meat is safe to eat. It also allows biologists to better determine how prevalent CWD is in the region.

How much will the herd be reduced?

“Within DMAP unit 3907, we would like to have 350-400 samples (whether through a DMAP permit or through antler or antlerless harvest tags) provided in head collection containers,” said Colley. “A sample size of 350-400 samples would be enough to detect CWD at a 1 percent infection rate (meaning if 1 in 100 deer are infected). These samples help determine the local infection rate and distribution of disease, which helps guide future management actions.”

Targeted removals

In other words, in the tiny section of Juniata County covered by DMAP 3907, biologists are hoping for 350-400 deer head samples out of the 1,000 DMAP hunting permits combined with the regular hunting allocations.

If that goal is not met, the game commission will institute a “targeted removal” to begin after all the regular deer hunting seasons where sharpshooters cull the wild deer herd.

“We have learned from previous years that targeted removals are not as well accepted. However, to date no state has been able to stabilize the infection rate or slow the spread of CWD through hunter harvest alone,” Colley said.

“Targeted removals are only conducted with landowner permission and only occur after the close of hunting seasons. Targeted removals are small-scale operations, occurring within 1-3 miles of known CWD-positive detections.”

All deer killed via targeted removals are tested for CWD. Venison from the deer that test negative for CWD will be donated to Hunters Sharing the Harvest — where meat is provided to those in need.

Observations

The Beavertown meeting lasted more than two hours, with hunters asking questions after the presentation. Ultimately, beyond the coverage we’ve shared so far about CWD, the major revelations from the meeting involved the second CWD-positive Juniata County deer and the number of DMAP permits that are available for the region.

Both Adams and Colley also shared that CWD has been found to be contagious through environmental means. CWD involves prions — or altered proteins — that can leech into the landscape from the urine, feces and blood of infected deer, and it can potentially transfer to another deer through plants, water, etc., for more than a decade.

As Adams shared at one point, if an infected deer urinates in a garden, the vegetables harvested from that garden could, in theory, transfer the bad prions.

There have been no known cases where CWD transfers to humans, but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) still recommends not consuming the meat of a CWD-positive deer. However, at least one study suggests that CWD has been contracted by primates — and CWD is loosely related to mad cow disease and its human counterpart, Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

Lastly, I came away with some clarity on DMAs vs. DMAP units.

I originally assumed the DMA that stretches into southern Snyder County was the same as the DMAP unit that meant additional permits and herd reduction. Those 1,000 new permits are only for the small 3907 unit in eastern Juniata County (see map above).

Hunters throughout the DMA that reaches into Snyder County are requested to submit deer heads for testing, and those hunting south of Route 522 are not to transport prion-rich deer parts (head, spinal cord and spleen) into non-DMA areas.

For more details on CWD, visit pgc.state.pa.us.

 

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