Pa. wages war against CWD on two fronts

The Hamburg Area Item - - Sports - By Tom Ta­tum For Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

By most es­ti­mates, Penn­syl­va­nia’s fields and forests are home to some 1.5 mil­lion white­tail deer. That’s about 30 deer per square mile on av­er­age. These wild deer fall un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion ( PGC) whose mis­sion is “to man­age Penn­syl­va­nia’s wild birds, wild mam­mals, and their habi­tats for cur­rent and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.” But there are also ap­prox­i­mately 23,000 cap­tive deer in the state that re­side on al­most 1,000 deer farms across the com­mon­wealth. Since these deer are not wild, they are not over­seen by the PGC. In­stead, like live­stock, they come un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture ( PDA).

Now, with chronic wast­ing dis­ease ( CWD) pos­ing a grow­ing threat to both wild and cap­tive deer here in Penn­syl­va­nia, these two in­de­pen­dent agen­cies ( PGC and PDA) must co­or­di­nate their re­sources in a joint ef­fort to con­tain the spread of a dis­ease which has al­ready in­fected both cap­tive and wild white­tails. Last week I at­tended a CWD In­for­ma­tional Fo­rum hosted by both the PGC and PDA to ex­am­ine the cur­rent sta­tus of the dis­ease and learn what mea­sures are be­ing taken to con­tain it. PGC Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Bryan Burhans was on hand to em­pha­size how se­ri­ous his agency re­gards the threats posed by CWD. “Chronic wast­ing dis­ease is the most chal­leng­ing prob­lem faced by our wildlife re­sources,” he de­clared. That’s why the PGC has an­ted up $ 1,350,000 to deal with it. “The cost will go up dras­ti­cally if and when the dis­ease spreads,” cau­tioned Burhans.

Among the PGC pre­sen­ters at the fo­rum was Wayne Laroche, who had served as the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Man­age­ment direc­tor for the past two years and was re­cently ap­pointed to Spe­cial As­sis­tant for CWD Re­sponse, a new po­si­tion. In his new ca­pac­ity Laroche takes charge of the Game Com­mis­sion’s ef­forts to slow

CWD’s spread and min­i­mize its im­pacts on white­tails and elk. Ini­tial PGC ef­forts to con­tain CWD be­gan back in 2012 when the agency es­tab­lished Dis­ease Man­age­ment Ar­eas ( DMA) where Chronic Wast­ing Dis­ease had been de­tected. DMA 1 in­cluded a cap­tive deer farm in Adams County in 2012. ( DMA 1 has since been elim­i­nated); DMA 2 en­com­passed mul­ti­ple free- rang­ing deer in Bed­ford, Blair, Cam­bria, and Ful­ton coun­ties from 2012- 2017, and cap­tive deer farms in Bed­ford, Franklin, and Ful­ton coun­ties dur­ing 2017; DMA 3 in­cluded two cap­tive deer farms in Jef­fer­son County ( 2014) and free- rang­ing deer in Clearfield County ( 2017).

Within any des­ig­nated DMA, in­ter­ac­tion with deer by hun­ters or other in­di­vid­u­als is re­stricted with the pro­hi­bi­tion of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of cervids ( deer and elk), feed­ing of wild, free- rang­ing cervids, use or pos­ses­sion of cervid urine- based at­trac­tants in any out­door set­ting, and, for suc­cess­ful hun­ters, the re­moval or ex­por­ta­tion of high- risk cervid parts. Pages 36 and 37 of Penn- syl­va­nia’s 2017- 2018 Hunt­ing and Trap­ping Di­gest fea­ture de­tailed maps out­lin­ing the cur­rent DMA bound­aries.

Laroche in­di­cated that test­ing of wild deer for CWD in DMAs is ex­ten­sive. Any re­ported sus­pect an­i­mals are eu­th­a­nized and tested as are all road­killed deer in the DMAs. Laroche noted that the er­ratic be­hav­ior ex­hib­ited by deer in the later stages of CWD make them more sus­cep­ti­ble to ve­hi­cle en­coun­ters than healthy deer. “Road­kill deer are far more likely to have CWD than a hunter har­vest,” he said.

Test­ing of hunter har­vested deer in DMAs will soon be­come even more ex­ten­sive as the PGC po­si­tions col­lec­tion boxes through­out the af­fected ar­eas where hun­ters are en­cour­aged to drop off the heads of their har­vested deer for test­ing.

While PGC ef­forts are fo­cused on wild deer, it falls on the PDA to reg­u­late cap­tive deer herds. In or­der to help con­tain the spread of CWD, the PDA re­quires all cap­tive deer farms with CWD- sus­cep­ti­ble species to en­roll in ei­ther the vol­un­tary Herd Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Pro­gram ( HCP) or the manda­tory Herd Mon­i­tored Pro­gram ( HMP). These pro­grams are de­signed to help de­ter­mine the sta­tus of CWD within do­mes­tic cervid herds.

There are 980 deer farms, in­clud­ing breed­ing farms and hunt­ing pre­serves, in Penn­syl­va­nia. Of these, 720 are en­rolled in HMP and the other 260 are en­rolled in HCP. Both HCP and HMP farms are re­quired to an­nu­ally re­port in­ven­tory to the PDA. HMP farms are re­quired to do an es­ti­mated in­ven­tory while HCP farms must have ei­ther a whole­herd an­nual vis­ual in­ven­tory ver­i­fi­ca­tion or a whole herd hands- on in­ven­tory ver­i­fi­ca­tion ev­ery three years by an Ac­cred­ited Class II vet­eri­nar­ian.

HCP in­ven­to­ries tend to be more ac­cu­rate as ev­ery deer must have an of­fi­cial an­i­mal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber and one other ap­proved form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Both HMP and HCP herds must re­port and test all deer that show signs sus­pi­cious for CWD. HMP herds must test 50 per­cent of all an­i­mals that die on the farm an­nu­ally and HCP herds must test 100 per­cent of all deaths on the farm an­nu­ally for CWD.

Early last month the PDA an­nounced that 27 deer from a Bed­ford County deer farm had tested pos­i­tive for CWD. That herd of 215 cap­tive deer had been quar­an­tined since Fe­bru­ary 16, 2017, af­ter a white­tail deer on the farm died and sub­se­quently tested pos­i­tive for the dis­ease. In or­der to pre­vent fur­ther spread of the dis­ease, the en­tire herd was “de­pop­u­lated,” eu­th­a­nized by of­fi­cials from the U. S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­tural Ve­teri­nary Ser­vices, USDA Wildlife Ser­vices, and the PDA. USDA pro­vided fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion to the farm owner for the loss of the herd. De­pop­u­la­tion is also a mea­sure avail­able to the PGC to tar­get wild deer in high risk ar­eas.

Thus far a to­tal of six dif­fer­ent deer farms in Adams, Bed­ford, Franklin, Ful­ton, and Jef­fer­son coun­ties have held an­i­mals that tested pos­i­tive for CWD. The first cases of CWD in Penn­syl­va­nia were de­tected when two Adams County deer tested pos­i­tive in 2012. Since then 40 cap­tive deer and 60 wild deer have tested pos­i­tive in the state where sur­veil­lance for the dis­ease has been on­go­ing since 1998. Al­though those fig­ures would seem to sug­gest that CWD is more con­cen­trated among cap­tive deer ( 40 out of about 23,000 ver­sus 60 out of 1.5 mil­lion wild deer) of­fi­cials from both the PGC and PDA share equal con­cerns and co­or­di­nated ef­forts to cur­tail the dis­ease in both wild and cap­tive pop­u­la­tions.

Prob­lem­atic to these con­cerns is the fact that, since 2012, 892 cap­tive deer have es­caped from com­mon­wealth deer farms while only 143 of those es­capees were ever re­cov­ered, leav­ing around 750 still roam­ing among their wild brethren. This comin­gling of cap­tive and wild deer may help fuel the spread of the dis­ease, a very real fear shared by both the folks at the PDA, who have au­thor­ity over deer in­side the fence, and the PGC, whose ju­ris­dic­tion ac­ti­vates when those same deer es­cape out­side the fence.

Just as the Game Com­mis­sion is in­ten­si­fy­ing their ef­forts to com­bat the spread of CWD among wild deer, the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture is do­ing the same with cap­tive deer. “We are work­ing di­rectly with cap­tive- deer herd man­agers to ed­u­cate them on risk fac­tors and to do what­ever pos­si­ble to safe­guard their herds,” noted State Vet­eri­nar­ian Dr. David Wolf­gang. “In­creased Sur­veil­lance both in and out­side fences is para­mount, along with em­ploy­ing man­age­ment strate­gies, such as uni­formly re­strict­ing move­ment of high- risk parts, man­ag­ing the den­sity and age of cap­tive herds, and con­sid­er­ing sec­ondary bar­ri­ers to pre­vent di­rect con­tact be­tween cap­tive and wild deer.”

TOM TA­TUM - FOR DFM

While chronic wast­ing dis­ease has not yet been de­tected in any deer here in Ch­ester, Mont­gomery, or Berks Coun­ties, both the PGC and the PDA re­main vig­i­lant in their ef­forts to con­tain the dis­ease.

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