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Support from All Stakeholders – Namely Hunters – Critical to CWD Plan Success


August 27, 2020

On Saturday, July 25, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners reviewed and approved the newest form of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Chronic Wasting Disease response plan. Following the initial review period of September 2019 through February 2020, the Game Commission issued a revised response plan in the spring of 2020 for a second round of public review. All told, the Commission received 885 comments on the plan from the public, agencies and organizations. These were incorporated into the final version of the plan. “Development of this plan was truly a collaborative effort,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “Our wildlife management staff consulted with many of the nation’s leading CWD experts from both the public and private sectors. Agency staff also took into account the many, many comments we received from passionate deer hunters all across the state over a months-long public comment process.”

Since the first recorded case of CWD in a captive deer facility in 2012, and just months later in a free-ranging deer, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has mobilized and collaborated with CWD experts from the public and private sectors to mitigate the effects of the disease. CWD is an always-fatal brain disease that affects members of the cervid family including deer, elk and moose. A total of 473 free-roaming deer have tested positive for CWD out of more than 95,000 deer tested in Pennsylvania since 2012. There is no live-animal test for CWD and no cure. To date, CWD has not been found to infect humans. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people avoid eating meat from CWD-infected animals.

The Game Commission maintains three Disease Management Areas across the state to control CWD. (not sure how to do a map/picture citation) These are geographic regions featuring special rules for hunters and the general public meant to slow disease spread while increasing the chances of detecting it. When CWD is detected, a 10-mile radius buffer is created around the CWD-positive deer. This buffer is then used as a reference when defining DMA boundaries with roads and waterways. As for the special rules within DMAs, it is illegal to move high-risk parts (i.e. brains, spinal cords, and spleens) outside the boundaries, hunters are prohibited from using natural urine-based attractants inside the boundaries and feeding of deer is not permitted.

The response plan presented July 25 by the Game Commission focuses on prevention, surveillance and management of CWD, and it relies heavily on communication and cooperation from a key group: hunters. Hunters will notice a change in their opportunities to harvest deer within DMAs this fall. “At the April 2020 Commission meeting, Game Commission staff recommended, and the board of commissioners approved increased antlerless licenses in Wildlife Management Units where CWD had been detected. In addition, the board of commissioners approved a 14-day concurrent firearms season for antlered and antlerless deer in these WMUs to provide more hunting opportunity,” said Christopher Rosenberry, the Game Commission’s deer and elk section supervisor. “The antlerless deer license increases and concurrent seasons in these areas eliminate the need for DMAP permits in CWD areas. Because of this, most DMAP units from past years, created specifically for CWD management, have been eliminated.”

Hunters can also contribute by participating in Enhanced Surveillance Units. These are areas around specific high priority CWD-positive animals. Samples collected within an ESU will determine the extent of infection in areas at the leading edge of disease expansion. The Game Commission has installed large metal bins throughout the DMAs for the collection of harvested deer heads. The bins, which are similar to those used for clothing donations, keep contents secure and will be checked and emptied every other day through the deer-hunting seasons. All deer heads retrieved from the bins will be tested for CWD, and the hunters who submitted them will be notified of the results, likely within two weeks of drop off. Bin locations can be found here, and testing results can be viewed here.

Several additional strategies were outlined within the Game Commission’s response plan, including the ban on movement of high-risk parts from “Established Areas” where the disease is established on the landscape and CWD is unlikely to be eradicated to reduce the movement of CWD from higher prevalence areas to lower prevalence ones. The Commission will also manage CWD within Containment Zones, small areas immediately surrounding a new, isolated CWD detection. Harvests there will be carried out with landowner cooperation in an effort to remove deer that may have come in contact with that newly discovered CWD-positive deer. The Commission notes, however, that no one strategy will solve the commonwealth’s CWD problem in a short time period, and the mitigation of the disease and its effects will require consistent long-term efforts. “Chronic Wasting Disease is a serious threat to Pennsylvania’s hunting heritage, the biggest we’ve faced in our lifetimes,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission President Charles Fox.

The Commission said in the response plan that it will strive to use the best available scientific information to continue to improve its response to CWD in order to fulfill its mission to manage and protect Pennsylvania’s deer and elk for current and future generations.


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