Sunday, February 1, 2015

Frye: Chronic Wasting Disease Creeping Closer To SW Pennsylvania

By Bob Frye 

The “smoldering brush fire” is inching closer to Southwestern Pennsylvania.
In fact, hunters might feel its heat this fall.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has been trying to keep tabs on chronic wasting disease for a while. It tests all of the elk taken by hunters each year and a collection of deer — killed by hunters, hit by vehicles or otherwise found dead or sick — from around the state.

No elk have been found to have the disease. That includes those taken in November. Samples for all 89 animals came back as “not detected,” said Justin Brown, the commission's wildlife veterinarian.

The story is not so good with deer.

Tests on tissue samples taken from deer within the state's three disease management areas — places where the disease already has been found — still are being conducted.
So far, five deer have come back as positive for CWD. All were roadkills collected within disease management area 2, in the south-central part of the state. It is the one of three disease areas where CWD has been found in the wild herd.

Four of those deer were found close to where previous CWD-positive deer were discovered. That is not surprising, Brown said.

“We are starting to see some clustering of positives,” he said.

The fifth deer was found along Route 220 in southern Bedford County. That still is within the disease management area but relatively far from where the other sick deer were confirmed.
It is possible, Brown said, the deer ranged up into Pennsylvania from Maryland, which has seen its own CWD cases in recent years.

No matter where it came from, it will have the most impact of any positives found this year.
The deer's proximity to the western edge of the disease area likely will cause the commission to expand disease management area 2 westward, Brown said.

How far west is to be determined. Brown said a recommendation to the Game Commission board probably is still a month or two away. He wants to wait until all of the deer samples collected are tested for CWD samples before deciding what needs to be done.

But Somerset County isn't that far away. If the boundary is changed to take in a part of it, more hunters in this region will be dealing with CWD.

A disease management area carries with it certain rules, such as a ban on the movement of “high risk” deer parts — hunters have to have deer butchered within the area's boundaries — and a ban on using deer urine attractants.

Perhaps it is inevitable more hunters will have to deal with those rules. Some Game Commissioners have said they expect the entire state to be a disease management area in time.

That won't happen overnight, Brown said. Chronic wasting disease does not spread quickly, via “explosive outbreaks.” It is more like a “smoldering brush fire.”

“It tends to be this slow, smoldering infection that gets worse over time,” he said.
Unfortunately, it's smoldering closer to home all the time.

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

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