Unfortunately, CWD has not gone away, and in fact, it continues to expand its boundaries in our state. Prions, the infectious agent that causes a neurological disease, is always fatal. Prions are shed through saliva, urine, and feces. What’s a little unsettling is the fact that animals with CWD may not show any clinical signs of the disease for up to 18-24 months after being infected. Later stages of CWD include a lowered head, lowered ears, weight loss, rough hair coat, excessive salivation, excessive thirst, excessive urination, stumbling, and a lack of fear of humans. Currently, there is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans or livestock; however, it has been demonstrated that plants can uptake CWD prions, and water sources can also become contaminated.
CWD first showed up in a captive deer in Adams County in 2012, and Disease Management Area 1 (DMA 1) was established, but after five years, no further positives were found, and DMA 1 was dissolved. In November of 2012, CWD was again detected in free-ranging deer in Bedford and Blair Counties when it was discovered in three harvested deer, and DMA 2 came into existence. Since then, several more sites have been established in the state, including right here close to home — DMA 7, which includes a good-sized chunk of southeastern Lycoming County and a tiny portion of extreme northern Montour County. A map of all the DMA sites can be found at http://www.arcg.is/1G4TLr.
Some things to keep in mind regarding CWD areas include the fact that no feeding is permitted to help prevent deer collecting at any given site. Also, no cervid urine base attractants can be used. High-risk cervid parts (head, brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes, and spinal column) should be disposed of at the original kill site. Previously, hunters who harvested a deer within a DMA or Established Area had to either process it themselves within those boundaries or take it to an approved processor or taxidermist specific to that DMA or Established Area. Starting this season, however, hunters who take a deer within a DMA or Established Area or even outside of Pennsylvania can now take it directly to any Game Commission-approved processor or taxidermist anywhere in the state. Those cooperators are listed at http://www.pgc.pa.gov. The new rule change is hoped to help increase the harvest in the management areas.
If you so desire, you may place the head of your harvested deer in a Game Commission collection bin for free testing. The bins will be located at multiple locations around the state, and they can also be found on the website. Test results can also be checked online, but it may take a couple of weeks to get results.
Like many other hunters, I’ll admit that if my deer looks healthy and acted perfectly normal when I got it, I go ahead and process it. Certainly, you don’t have to do what I do. It’s a situation I plan to keep a close eye on but to be honest, I don’t look for CWD to completely go away anytime soon.