Saturday, December 8, 2012

Detected CWD in Pennsylvania Will Affect Virginia Hunters

    On October 12 of this year, Pennsylvania was added to the rank of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)-infected states when a Whitetail doe, an escapee from an Adams County deer farm, was killed and tested positive for the disease.  Not only is this bad news for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, but the discovery also places new restrictions on Virginia hunters venturing to the Keystone State.
    CWD is a progressive neurological disease that affects the cervid species—deer, elk, and moose—in North America.  Infection causes deterioration of the brain, visibly reflected through emaciation, odd behavior, loss of control of bodily functions, and always results in death.  Despite its relation to livestock diseases like Mad Cow Disease, CWD has given no indication that it is transferable to humans, pets, or livestock, but is theorized to be passed laterally (between co-existing animals).
    Because of this contagious and incurable nature, Virginia, like most other states, prohibits the transportation of whole deer carcasses from locations designated as carcass-restriction zones back into the state.  Such restriction zones occur in the bordering states of Maryland (Allegany County), West Virginia (Hampshire, Hardy, and Morgan Counties), and now Pennsylvania (Adams County).   Other carcass-restriction zones exist in the states of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
    The state of Virginia allows only the following carcass parts to be imported:  de-boned meat that has been cut and wrapped, quarters or meat portions unattached to the head or spinal column, hides/capes without heads, cleaned skull plates with antlers, antlers with no tissue attached, the animal’s upper canines, and finished taxidermy products.
    These prohibitions by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are implemented as precautions to limit any possibility of worsening its own case of afflicted deer.  When CWD was discovered in western Frederick County in 2010, the Department established a CWD containment area in Frederick County, the portion of Shenandoah County north of Route 675 and west of I-81, and in the City of Winchester.  The DGIF enforces within the containment area a mandatory sampling of deer taken on the first three Saturdays of the general firearms season, as well as several restrictions concerning the exportation of deer carcasses, parts, and wastes originating inside the containment area, and the rehabilitation of deer inside the containment area.  In the areas included in the containment area, as well as neighboring Clarke County, feeding deer is illegal year-round, and seasons and bag limits on private lands have been adjusted liberally to attempt to lower the population.
    More information regarding deer harvest treatment and preventative measures against CWD can be found on the VDGIF’s website, on the wildlife department websites of the aforementioned states and provinces, or at
A deer suffering from CWD will often appear
extremely emaciated
    Still, in Virginia it is relatively rare to encounter a deer (or now, elk—fingers crossed) infected by the disease; but what does an affected animal look like?  The most obvious symptom is emaciation over time, as the animal becomes noticeably lethargic and begins to consume less food.  Frequent drinking and urination can also be tell-tale signs.  Behavioral changes such as isolation, the lowering of the head, and a perpetually blank facial expression can also be hints of infected individuals.  However, many of these symptoms are characteristic of other wildlife diseases also, and are not always trademarks of CWD.
    If you do happen to harvest an animal that can behaviorally be suspected of infection, even outside of the established containment area, it could prove vital to contact a local wildlife official—doing so could be critical.
    All of these regulatory hoops may seem like a lot to trouble oneself with; but they come with a reward.  Since the beginning of sampling procedures in Virginia, nearly 7,000 animals have been tested, 10 years have passed, and only four deer have been confirmed as positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.  Only through the continuation of widespread public participation and respect can this biologically detrimental disease retain such favorable statistics.

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