Pennsylvania might expand disease management area for deer; 212 positives found

Brian Whipkey
Gannett PA

The Pennsylvania Game Commission may expand disease management boundaries for deer after reviewing the latest numbers of positive tests for Chronic Wasting Disease.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease that is found in deer and spread through prions in saliva and fecal matter.

Bedford County appears to have become the state’s hot spot for the disease.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website, Bedford County had 111 of the state’s total of 212 detections of CWD during the 2020-21 hunting seasons. That’s more than half of all the positive tests discovered in the state. Last year, Bedford had 97 deer test positive for the disease.

This information from the Pennsylvania Game Commission's website shows the location of 212 positive cases of Chronic Wasting Disease found during the 2020-21 hunting seasons.

Other counties that had positive results in the 2020-21 hunting license year are Fulton 69, Blair 17, Huntingdon 7, Juanita 2, Franklin 3, Somerset 1,  Jefferson 1, Snyder 1. Fulton which borders Bedford County had 62 of the state’s total 206 positive tests in the 2019-2020 season.

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Andrea Korman, Chronic Wasting Disease biologist for the Game Commission, said CWD detections have grown from the 2013-14 season when three cases were found in the state. The disease was first detected a year earlier in 2012.

“ As of now, we do anticipate expansion of DMA 2. When the new boundaries are finalized and approved, we will notify the public,” she said through email in response to a reporter's questions. DMA 2 is Disease Management Unit 2 which includes all or parts of Indiana, Cambria, Clearfield, Centre, Union, Snyder, Blair, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Somerset, Bedford, Fulton, Franklin, and Adams counties.

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DMAs have special regulations such as a ban on feeding deer and increased allocation of antlerless deer hunting opportunities. Hunters are not permitted to remove from a DMA certain parts of a deer like the brain and spine that could carry the disease to other parts of the state.

This trail camera photo from a wooded area in Lincoln Township, Somerset County, shows a buck and doe enjoying a mineral block at the same time. The Game Commission believes scenarios like this one allow infections to spread from one deer to another.

“We recognize there is a growing problem here and have implemented regulations for this area that are now in place for the coming season to reduce the risk of human-assisted spread of the disease. We are also reviewing harvest data to evaluate other potential management options,” she said.

How the DMA will expand has not been finalized.

“DMA boundaries are changed when new CWD detections occur near the edge or outside of existing DMAs. The location of the actual DMA boundary is based on a number of factors including distance from the CWD detection, potential barriers to deer movement, availability of roads or physical features, etc. The only information on potential expansions that can be provided now is; once DMA boundary changes are finalized and approved, the Game Commission will announce them to the public,” she explained.

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The new boundaries are not expected to be part of this Saturday’s meeting of the Game Commission’s board where seasons and bag limits are scheduled to be approved.

“The consistent need to expand DMAs shows that CWD continues to spread each year. Within the established area in WMU 4A and part of eastern WMU 2C, the proportion of hunter-harvest adult deer infected with CWD increased from 8% to 14% over the last year. Success in limiting CWD will not occur after a year or two. Rather, the fight against CWD is a long-term effort that will continue to rely on cooperation from hunters and the public,” she wrote.

Part of the effort involves educating the public on what they can do to help reduce the spread of the disease. Amy Nabozny is an information and education supervisor for the Game Commission in the southcentral region of the state.

“It’s an uphill battle," Nabozny said.

If someone sees a sick or deer that suspect of having CWD, Nabozny said to call the Game Commission. Efforts to control the spread of the deer have included increasing the number of doe licenses and bans on feeding deer. The state wants to reduce the chances of deer congregating in close areas over food and passing the illness on to other deer.

Hunters can have their deer tested through various head drop off collections bins that are placed around DMAs. While there are no clinical studies that say a CWD  positive deer is not safe to eat, Nabozny said they don’t recommend eating a deer that tests positive just as a precaution.

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The efforts and regulations are expected to be place for a significant time. “History shows once it (CWD) takes hold, it’s hard to get rid of it,” Nabozny said,

To monitor CWD in Pennsylvania, up-to-date surveillance information can be found on the commission’s CWD dashboard at  https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/CWDResultsLookup

Brian Whipkey is the Pennsylvania Outdoors columnist for Gannett. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com or 814-701-6542.