Last updated: February 17. 2013 9:55AM - 21 Views

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Considering a disease that can have drastic impacts on white-tailed deer and elk has now been found in Pennsylvania, maybe it's time for a few equally drastic changes.

Last week the state confirmed that chronic wasting disease was discovered in a dead captive deer from a farm in Adams County. It's not a complete surprise considering the disease had been found just 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border in Maryland.

But it is cause for some concern.

The neurological disease is spread through members of the cervid family – deer, elk, moose, etc., and attacks the brain of an infected animal.

It's fatal, and it's transmitted through animal-to-animal contact or indirectly through soil-to-animal contact.

Once the disease prions are in the ground, experts say they will be there forever.

Last week Pennsylvania became the 22nd state with a CWD-infected deer.

While it's disheartening that the deadly disease is here, we did get lucky in that the disease was found in a captive deer, not in the wild herd.

But that doesn't mean it's time to breathe a sigh of relief and relax.

On the contrary, it's time to get proactive, starting with deer farms.

In 13 of the 22 states with CWD, captive deer populations are where the disease was discovered.

A plan of action

Deer farming is a big industry in Pennsylvania, but it's time to buckle down on such operations – many of which are canned hunt facilities where people pay to hunt trophy animals inside a fence.

In the Adams County case, the infected deer was turned over to the state after it had died. Why? Because it was exhibiting symptoms beforehand.

I don't know if the deer was in contact with other animals while it was displaying symptoms, but it certainly could've been shedding the CWD prions (through urine and feces) into the ground.

Although the disease was found in one captive deer in one farm, for now, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is getting ready to implement its CWD Response Plan.

The plan lists options that PGC executive director Carl Roe can enact in CWD areas, including: increased testing on hunter-killed wild deer; mandatory checking of hunter-killed cervids; prohibiting the removal of high-risk cervid parts; prohibiting the rehabilitation of cervids; prohibiting the use, collection, possession and exportation of cervidurine-based attractants; prohibiting the feeding of cervids; and prohibiting any new permits to possess or transport live cervids.

The PGC met on Friday to discuss its course of action, and spokesman Jerry Feaser said just how the CWD plan will be initiated will be announced next week.

While the agency doesn't have any authority of the actual deer farms (that's under the state Department of Agriculture), I believe that's where the greatest threat exists.


Since 1998, the PGC has collected and tested more than 38,000 samples from deer and elk in the state and not one has come back positive for CWD.

It's time to take a hard look at the use of urine-based lures, as they are generated from captive deer. We also need to examine if more regulations are needed for deer farms, perhaps limiting interstate movement of deer.

Sure, such a move won't make the deer lure industry very happy, nor the captive deer people, for that matter.

But this isn't about appeasing an industry. It's about protecting one of our most valuable wild resources.

Such a tall order requires drastic action.

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