SUGARLOAF TWP. – For years, Garth Book has made painstaking efforts to protect the 120 deer on his farm from chronic wasting disease.
The deer are surrounded by two fences – each 10 feet high -- to prevent contact with their wild counterparts. Book has a closed herd, meaning he brings no deer in from other farms and he has been monitored for the disease since 2001. Since then, he has had approximately 50 deer on his farm, along with more than 150 that he sold to shooting preserves tested for CWD.
Every test came back negative, Book said.
Despite the safeguards, Book's farm felt the wrath of the disease when he and 20 other deer farmers were placed under a quarantine by the state Department of Agriculture.
They're giving you a sense of guilt when I've spent years doing everything they told me to do, Book said. I have less of a chance of getting CWD here then in the wild because my deer are tested and I don't bring any in.
Pennsylvania had its first confirmed case of the disease when a captive deer died on an Adams County farm Oct. 4. Several days later, lab tests confirmed the deer had CWD. The disease is fatal in deer, elk and moose, CWD is spread via contact through saliva, urine and feces. The prions that cause CWD can remain active in contaminated soil for years.
There is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While Book sells the majority of his deer to shooting preserves, he said the link between his farm and the Adams County deer is basically non-existent. Six years ago, Book sold five deer to a farm in Williamsport that was also monitored for CWD and tested clean.
A fawn born on the Williamsport farm was sold to the Adams County facility, which turned out to be the 3 1/2 -year-old doe that tested positive for the disease.
We're talking about a deer from Adams County that came from Williamsport that I have nothing to do with, Book said. That deer wasn't born on my farm and has no genetic link to me. Why I'm under a quarantine, I don't know.
The quarantine comes at the worse possible time for Book, whose primary income is generated from his farm. It's currently the peak season for selling large bucks to shooting preserves, Book said, and he sells roughly 20 bucks each year at an average price of $7,000 each. Larger animals can bring as much as $10,000, but while he's under the quarantine, Book can't sell anything.
The time frame to sell bucks will end in another two to three weeks, he said.
If I'm monitored and every deer I ever sold off the farm has tested clean, what is my issue here? Why am I under a quarantine during the busiest time of the year? Book said.
My farm is locked down because an Adams County farm had a deer with CWD that has no link to my farm.
Of the 21 quarantined farms on the list, Book's is the only one in Luzerne County. Most are in the southcentral part of the state and the Williamsport area, although there is one Mildred, Sullivan County, and in Danville, Montour County. Pennsylvania is the 23rd state to confirm CWD in either wild or captive animals.
Although the CWD case in the state is limited to a single captive deer as of now, Book believes it is also in wild deer and has been here for some time.
It's in Pennsylvania in the wild herd. The animals that we've been testing in this state are generally one-and-a-half years old. The disease is degenerative and doesn't show up in younger deer, Book said. The disease takes time, and considering the deer in Adams County was just over three years old leads me to believe it came from the wild.
Last February a wild deer in Maryland – just miles from the Pennsylvania border, tested positive for CWD.
Book expects more deer farms in the state to fall under the quarantine and he wondered where it will end. In the meantime, all he can do is wait things out and hope the quarantine before it's too late to sell bucks to shooting preserves.
Where does it end? he said. If this keeps up I'll be shut down by next year.