Chronic Wasting Disease fears prompt new authority for Pennsylvania Game Commission director

Published: Sunday, July 03, 2011, 3:56 AM
By Kurt Bresswein | The Express-Times

Pennsylvania wildlife officials are prepared to go on the offensive against a devastating white-tailed deer disease found just 10 miles from the state's southern border.

The state Board of Game Commissioners on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to new emergency powers aimed at limiting the risk of the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.

Officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have tested for the disease for more than a decade and have yet to confirm it in wild or captive herds.

But it's already struck wild populations of antlered animals known as cervids - the classification of deer, elk and moose - in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, according to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance. In Canada, the alliance says, it's struck cervids in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Among captive cervids, it's been confirmed in Montana, Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma, according to the alliance, which was formed in 2002 by the Boone and Crockett Club, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Mule Deer Foundation.

The contagious, neurological disease deteriorates infected animals' brains, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.

"Currently, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans," the alliance says on its website. "However, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD infectious agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate any potential health risk."

Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser says the disease has been found about 10 miles from the Maryland border with south-central Pennsylvania.

The emergency authority that the commission board granted to Executive Director Carl G. Roe allows him to stop importation of cervid parts from areas known to harbor the disease. It also gives him power to designate disease-management areas in Pennsylvania.


Disease-management areas
Once an area is designated, the executive director can use his emergency authority to:

  • allow the killing of cervids "without regard to established seasons and bag limits and methods of take"
  • prohibit the use, collection, possession and exportation of cervid urine-based attractants
  • prohibit the feeding of cervids

"It's not a given that everything on that list is going to be implemented," Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said. "That's kind of like giving him a toolbox with a bunch of tools in it."