Photo credit: Jacob Dingel.
Because we know there are a lot of acronyms posted on the Internet, we want to take a moment to explain some of our most important ones.
Chronic wasting disease, also commonly known as CWD, infects deer, elk and moose, specifically their brain and nervous system, eventually resulting in their death. It can be passed from one animal to another by direct contact, or indirectly when a healthy animal comes in contact with the prion that causes CWD, which is shed by infected animals.
When CWD is detected in a new area, the Game Commission responds by designating a Disease Management Area, or DMA, within which special rules apply regarding the hunting and feeding of deer.
As new cases emerge near a DMA boundary, those DMAs are expanded to encompass larger areas.
CWD first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2012, when it was detected in deer at a captive facility in Adams County, then a few months later, in free-ranging deer in Blair and Bedford counties. Since then, it has been detected in dozens more captive and free-ranging deer. The disease itself was first identified in 1967.
Since last year at this time, DMA 4 has been formed, spanning parts of Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks counties. Meanwhile, DMA 2 and DMA 3 have both been expanded.
DMA 2 now totals more than 4,614 square miles and includes parts of Juniata, Mifflin and Perry counties, in addition to all or parts of Adams, Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clearfield, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties.
DMA 3 has been expanded to more than 916 square miles. It now includes parts of Armstrong, Cambria and Clarion counties, as well as parts of Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. Maps and turn-by-turn descriptions of DMA boundaries can be found on the CWD page at the Game Commission’s website.
With archery season right around the corner, the Game Commission is taking part in several informational events across the three DMAs where the disease has been detected and special rules are in place to help the public better understand CWD and what it means for Pennsylvania’s deer and deer hunting.
DMAs serve to limit CWD’s spread. Hunters who harvest deer within a DMA are prohibited from transporting the deer outside the DMA unless they first remove the carcass parts with the highest risk of transmitting CWD. The meat, the hide and antlers attached to a clean skull plate may be removed from a DMA.
High-risk parts include the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and lymph nodes); spinal cord and backbone (vertebrae); spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft material is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord material; and brain-tanned hide. The use or field possession of urine-based cervid attractants, and the feeding of deer also are prohibited within DMAs.
Hunters who harvest a deer within one of Pennsylvania’s three DMAs can deposit the head of their deer into any CWD Collection Container, pictured below, for free testing and for biological surveillance purposes. The harvest tag must be filled out completely, legibly and physically attached to the deer’s ear. The head must be placed in a plastic garbage bag and sealed before being placed in the collection bin. Hunters will be notified of test results. Skulls and antlers will not be returned.
To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the disease is always fatal to the cervids it infects. As a precaution, CDC recommends people avoid eating meat from deer and elk that look sick or that test positive for CDW.
Currently, there is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, nor is there a vaccine. Clinical signs of CWD include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death.