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Chronic Wasting Disease – What to Know Before You Go Afield
September 18, 2018

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"You could really give us a hand by helping to get the word out regarding Chronic Wasting Disease." That was the essence of a conversation I had with several State Game Wardens, who were representing the PA Game Commission, at the 41st Annual Bradys Run Maple Syrup Festival in Beaver County, back in April 2018. It's their job to make sure hunters abide by the established hunting regulations and they want to make certain everyone is familiar with what those rules are, since "I didn't know," is not a plausible defense when it comes to something as serious as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which affects members of the Cervidae (deer) family.

We all know that hundreds, if not thousands, of residents of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia purchase nonresident hunting licenses in these neighboring states, primarily to pursue white-tailed deer. I happen to be included amongst this multitude of hunters, so proactive CWD regulations impact me personally.

I started hunting Ohio back in 2004 and in the past, I would follow Ohio's game check protocol and then bring my field-dressed deer back to PA to either process myself at home or to take to a local deer processor where I have my PA deer butchered. However, in the present era of CWD, that is no longer legally permissible.

Under current regulations in effect for the 2018-19 deer hunting seasons, any buck or doe I successfully harvest in Ohio I will have to either process myself at a location in Ohio or take it to an Ohio deer processor to have butchered there. Crossing the state line with an entire deer carcass is now illegal (the same applies to bringing back a deer carcass from WV into PA), since the prion that causes CWD is typically found in a deer's brain and spinal column. The four PA State Game Wardens I talked to back in April made it very clear they have a mandate to more aggressively look for out-of-state deer carcasses being transported back into PA in/on vehicles and for ones that have been dropped off at PA deer processors.

Most hunters are highly ethical and responsible individuals, and try to abide by all established hunting rules and regulations to the best of their abilities; so, this needs to include those requirements pertaining to CWD established by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, the PA Game Commission, and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. I definitely don't want, and I'm sure you don't want, to be "pinched" for a CWD infraction that is: (1) illegal, and (2) potentially threatens the long-term health and well-being of our overall white-tailed deer herd.

Chronic Wasting Disease has been around for decades in free-ranging deer and elk in the midwest, Rocky Mountains, and some western Canadian Provinces. It's only been in the past decade that CWD made its way into OH, PA, and WV, via captive deer farms and now in some wild whitetails in specific areas.

CWD is a neurological disease affecting the brain and nervous system of members of the deer family (whitetails, mule deer, elk, and moose). CWD is not spread by a virus, bacteria, or germ; but rather the contagion is a prion, an abnormal form of protein that is typically spread via saliva, urine, feces, and other bodily fluids.

Confoundingly, the CWD-causing prion can remain a viable pathogen outside a deer's body in the soil or inside plants for many years. (I.E.: Where an infected deer urinated years ago, a plant could grow and another deer could eat that plant at some point in the future and become infected.)

In early stages, infected deer do not exhibit many external symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, deer become emaciated, display abnormal behaviors (such as staggering), and lose bodily functions as brain lesions eventually lead to death. Currently, there is no practical way to test for CWD in live deer and the diagnosis can only be confirmed post-mortem (after death) by examining the brain. CWD belongs to a family of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), which includes Mad Cow Disease in cattle and Scrapie in sheep. Currently, there is no evidence that CWD affects humans, but public health officials highly recommend avoiding exposure to the CWD prion as they further research this very serious matter.

Hunters are advised to take several precautions when it comes to CWD. First, do not harvest, handle, or consume any deer that appears sick. Second, always wear disposable gloves when field-dressing any deer and thoroughly wash your hands and field-dressing equipment afterwards. Third, bone out the meat from the carcass, while keeping contact with the brain and spinal tissues to an absolute minimum. Finally, consider having your deer tested and do not consume any venison that tests positive.

While OH, PA, and WV share excellent common information on their respective websites regarding CWD, such as frequently asked questions and corresponding answers, there is substantial state-specific details that resident and nonresident hunters should know in advance, if they choose to hunt a particular state.

Ohio addresses Chronic Wasting Disease on Pages 8 & 9 of the Ohio Hunting & Trapping Regulations 2018-2019. Ohio hunters are further directed to consult www.wildohio.gov for specific information on CWD within the Buckeye State. There on the Wildlife home page, under the link for Diseases in Wildlife, there is detailed information on CWD, to include deer carcass restrictions from out-of-state and the CWD Disease Surveillance Area (DSA 2018-01), which went into effect on August 1, 2018 in five townships in eastern Holmes County and two adjacent townships in northwestern Tuscarawas County. (DSA 2018-01 was in response to several deer in a captive facility in eastern Holmes County testing positive for CWD earlier in 2018.) Hunters pursuing and harvesting whitetails in these seven townships need to be aware of carcass inspection requirements and baiting/feeding restrictions that have been implemented.

Pennsylvania devotes Pages 35-38 of the 2018-19 PA Hunting & Trapping Digest to Chronic Wasting Disease. Since the PA Hunting & Trapping Digest no longer comes free with your PA Hunting License purchase, most hunters will need to consult the PA Game Commission's website: www.pgc.pa.gov.

PA currently has three designated Disease Management Areas (DMAs) in effect: DMA 2 in southcentral PA along the Maryland Border (includes portions of 13 counties), DMA 3 in west Central PA along Interstate 80 (includes portions of 6 counties), and new DMA 4 in southeastern PA (portions of 3 counties). Specific maps for each DMA, restrictions on feeding deer and using deer-urine scents, and applicable rules governing the processing and testing of deer harvested within a DMA are given. Numerous Ohio-residents own camps and hunt lands within DMA 3, based on it being only one hour from the OH/PA state line on I-80, so this impacts a lot of nonresident hunters. The PGC is very concerned about CWD potentially impacting the PA wild elk herd north of I-80 in northcentral PA and is aggressively trying to preclude CWD spreading there.

Extreme northeastern West Virginia in the Potomac River drainage is where CWD has been detected in free-ranging deer and the West Virginia Hunting and Trapping Regulations Summary July 2018 June 2019 addresses CWD Sampling Stations on Page 12 and West Virginia's CWD Containment Area. This includes carcass transport and baiting/feeding restrictions in four counties and baiting/feeding restrictions in two additional counties.

None of us want to see CWD spread any further in OH, PA, and WV. However, it is a harsh reality we as hunters have to face as we head afield this fall. The old adage, "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem" is very true when it comes to deer hunters and deer hunting in terms of CWD. We owe it to the whitetails we love and the sport of pursuing them we cherish to learn the applicable regulations each state has mandated and abide by them when it comes to avoid causing the further spread of Chronic Wasting Disease by our actions or inactions.

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