Deer Disease More Than Doubles in Pennsylvania in 2015

By Marcus Schneck,

A record 12 white-tailed deer were found to be infected with chronic wasting disease - an always fatal, neurological disease in members of the deer family - in Pennsylvania in 2015, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
That dozen, which is the most cases found in Pennsylvania in a single year, increases the total count of free-ranging deer that have been found in the state since 2012 to 22.

CWD-infected deer also have been found in captive deer herds in Adams County - the first recorded incidence in Pennsylvania in 2012 - and in Jefferson County.

All 12 of the deer with CWD in 2015 were found in Disease Management Area 2, which last year covered all or parts of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties, but has now been expanded by 437 square miles.

DMA 2, which is one of three disease management areas established by the commission, is the only area of the state where CWD has been detected in free-ranging deer.

Special rules regarding the hunting, transport and feeding of wild deer apply within all DMAs, but one of the 2015 cases involved a deer harvested by a hunter who transported the buck that later tested positive for CWD from DMA 2 to a deer processor far outside the DMA. Spreading the problem farther, the high-risk parts from the animal went to a rendering plant.

Transporting a deer out of a DMA is illegal. By leaving behind those parts with the highest-risk of transmitting CWD to other deer, hunters limit the chances the disease will spread to new areas of the state.

A total of 5,645 road-killed, hunter-harvested and suspected infected deer were tested for CWD in Pennsylvania during 2015.

The commission stepped up sampling efforts within DMA 2 during 2015 in an attempt to enhance monitoring efforts and to estimate a prevalence level of CWD within townships representing the core area of infection within DMA 2. A total of 1,602 samples were collected from deer within DMA 2. Twelve, or 0.75 percent of these, tested CWD positive.

That is a relatively low prevalence level, but the commission nots that unless additional control measures are implemented, the infection rate is certain to increase.

"This is the one disease that has the potential to drastically change deer hunting as we know it," noted commission Wildlife Management Director Wayne Laroche, urging hunters to take CWD seriously.
To do otherwise, risks spreading the disease to deer and elk in other parts of Pennsylvania.

In the early stages of infection, CWD tends to spread and increase very slowly in wild deer populations. That might cause hunters to have a false sense of security, and take the presence of the disease lightly.