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Outdoors

Appearance of chronic wasting disease in wild deer herd to impact hunters

Bob Frye
| Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has tested more than 40,000 deer for chronic wasting disease since 1998. It's been found in just more than a dozen animals in the wild, all since 2013.
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The Pennsylvania Game Commission has tested more than 40,000 deer for chronic wasting disease since 1998. It's been found in just more than a dozen animals in the wild, all since 2013.

This is the new reality.

In years past, a hunter who shot a deer could take it home intact, regardless of where he killed it and where home was. That's no longer true, at least not everywhere.

Across parts of Southwestern Pennsylvania this year, hunters who shoot a deer will have to check road maps before knowing what deer parts they can move where.

Chronic wasting disease is to blame.

The always-fatal ailment has been found in several places across the state. Pennsylvania Game Commission officials want to confine it to those locations.

To do so, it has created three “disease management areas” or containment zones. The largest — the nearly 1,700-square-mile disease management area 2 — recently was expanded into parts of Somerset and Cambria counties. It also takes in all of Bedford and Blair and parts of Huntingdon and Fulton.

A map outlining it is on page 39 of this year's hunting digest.

Hunters who shoot a deer within its boundaries can't take it out, at least not intact.

Say, for example, a hunter from New Kensington shoots a 10-point buck on state game land 82 in southeastern Somerset County. Under the new rules, that hunter will have to take the deer to a butcher within the disease area so as to avoid moving “high risk” parts — brains, spinal columns, lymph nodes and spleens — and potentially spreading the disease. If he wants to get the deer mounted, he'll have to choose a taxidermist within the disease area.

The commission is maintaining a list of processors and taxidermists on its website.

Hunters who live inside the disease area can shoot a deer there and take it home, but even they are asked to dispose of its parts in their household trash or in one of several dumpsters to be set up on state game lands.

Those rules will inconvenience some, said Justin Brown, the commission's wildlife veterinarian. But if the agency is going to manage the disease, it needs hunters' help, he said.

“Managing CWD, a huge part of that falls on you, the sportsmen out in the field,” he told a crowd of about 150 at an informational meeting in Berlin Borough on Thursday.

“Our goal is to keep it in as small an area as possible and keep the number of infected deer as small as possible. You're our boots on the ground we can manage this disease with.”

The rules will be in place for years.

Brown said Pennsylvania's wasting disease response plan calls for maintaining the rules for at least five years after the last positive detection. That clock hasn't started yet. CWD-positive deer have been found in disease management area 2 every year since 2013, Brown said, including three in June and July.

History says that's unlikely to change. Since being discovered in Colorado in the 1960s, wasting disease has spread to 23 states and three Canadian provinces. Only one, New York, has eradicated it, and it was “probably just extremely lucky,” Brown said.

Some hunters asked if it's safe to eat deer from the area.

Craig Schultz, veterinarian with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said there's no evidence humans can contract the disease, though he also advised against eating sick-looking animals.

Hunters can have their deer tested for wasting disease. But that involves driving the head to the Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory in Harrisburg, paying $75 and waiting weeks for results, Schultz said.

In a state where hunters take more than 300,000 deer annually, the number of people taking that step each year “is probably in the dozens,” Brown said.

No CWD-positive deer have been found in Somerset or Cambria counties. They're partially in the disease area because of their proximity to positive cases elsewhere and the commission's need to use roads as easily identifiable disease management area boundaries, Brown said.

Hunters need to cooperate if they want to try to keep the disease away, said Tom Fazi, a supervisor in the commission's southwest region office. He stressed that when asked about the fine for moving high-risk deer parts out of the disease area. Commission officers have encountered that violation in other parts of the state. There were two citations issued in 2012, four in '13 and 53 last year.

Fazi didn't say what the fine would be. Instead, he said hunters should obey the law not because it's economical but because they should want to spread disease unnecessarily.

“You don't want to be that guy,” Fazi said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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