Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is an always-fatal disease that is a threat to deer and elk in Pennsylvania. There is no vaccine or cure for CWD. It’s spread by deer-to-deer contact and through the environment.
Since the discovery of the disease in Pennsylvania a decade ago, the fight to slow the spread of CWD continues across the commonwealth. So hunters who harvest deer within any of the state’s Disease Management Areas (DMAs) or its Established Area (EA) must comply with special rules.
There are six DMAs across the state, one of them – DMA 7 – new this hunting season. Created in April after the detection of a CWD-positive deer at a captive facility in Lycoming County, it takes in portions of Lycoming, Northumberland, Montour, Columbia and Sullivan counties.
The boundaries of a few other DMAs, meanwhile, have changed since last season, with the most recent of those impacting DMA 2 in southcentral Pennsylvania.
Because some of those changes became necessary after publication of the Hunting & Trapping Digest that all hunters get with their license, hunters are advised to visit the Game Commission’s website at www.pgc.pa.gov to familiarize themselves with DMA boundary lines.
The EA, meanwhile, is within DMA 2 and includes portions of Bedford, Blair, Fulton, and Huntingdon counties. Approximately 90% of all CWD detections in the state have come from this area.
As a reminder, within a DMA and the EA, it’s illegal within a DMA and the EA to remove any cervid high-risk parts; use or possess cervid urine-based attractants; directly or indirectly feed wild, free-ranging deer; and rehabilitate wild, free-ranging cervids.
High-risk parts include: the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and any lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.
The parts-movement ban means hunters in a DMA and the EA must determine in advance what they’ll do with any deer they harvest. They can take them to a processor within the DMA/EA or to one included on a Game Commission-approved list for that particular DMA/EA, as those processors agree to properly dispose of the high-risk parts. Hunters can also dispose of high-risk parts within the DMA/EA in trash destined for a landfill. Or, while not preferred, they can quarter the animal and leave the high-risk parts at the kill site (preferably buried).
The meat, antlers (free of brain material) and other low-risk parts then can be transported outside the DMA and the EA.
Hunters getting taxidermy mounts must likewise take their deer to a taxidermist within the DMA, the EA or on the Game Commission list. The processor and taxidermist list is available at the Game Commission website. Click on “Wildlife,” then “Wildlife Health,” then “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).”
There, too, hunters will find the locations of head drop-off bins within DMAs and the EA. Hunters can deposit deer heads – minus any antlers, double-bagged and with a legible harvest tag attached –there and have them tested for CWD for free. Test results can be obtained by calling the CWD hotline (1-833-INFOCWD) or visiting the CWD Results lookup page at https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/CWDResultsLookup.
For those who wish to keep their deer head but still get it tested, you can try your hand at sampling it yourself using this instruction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnEdDmfY-i4.
Hunters can also explore opportunities to get Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permits, which allow them to take up to two additional antlerless deer in areas where increased CWD surveillance is needed. Some permits may still remain. Hunters can check availability at www.pgc.pa.gov/CWD. Click on “CWD DMAP Area Look Up.”
Although there is no known case of it being transmitted to humans, the Game Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people do not consume meat from deer that test positive for CWD. The Game Commission manages wildlife for and in cooperation with the public. Because much is still unknown about CWD, it is important to do all we can to limit exposure of all species (including people) to this known pathogen.