PGC and USDA to target Chronic Wasting Disease

Photo by Jacob Dingel from The Pennsylvania Game Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — Wildlife Services are teaming up and working with landowners to do “targeted removals” of “100 to 200” deer in each of the areas where CWD was identified.

Confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease in Clearfield, Jefferson, and Franklin counties are driving “aggressive management strategies.”

The Pennsylvania Game Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — Wildlife Services are teaming up and working with landowners to do “targeted removals” of “100 to 200” deer in each of the areas where CWD was identified.

“The goal is to remove and test enough deer to determine if CWD has established itself in the area,” according to a Game Commission release.

The disease is contagious, always fatal, and infects deer and elk, according to the Game Commission.

“CWD is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) disease,” Game Commission CWD Communication Specialist Courtney Colley said these diseases are characterized by having long incubation periods (takes a long time for symptoms to show) and all TSE diseases are caused by a prion (misfolded protein). There currently is no vaccine or cure for CWD.”

Graphic from High risk parts of a deer.

“Other TSE diseases include scrapie in sheep, mad cow disease in cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans which can occur naturally or through eating mad cow infected meat,” Colley said. “Due to recent studies on non-human primates and the relation to mad cow disease suggest CWD may pose a risk to humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommends humans avoid consuming infected meat.”

Colley said there have been no reported cases of CWD infecting humans.

Cases of infected deer is bad enough.

“In new areas where CWD is first detected, the Game Commission is committed to preventing the establishment of CWD,” Bureau of Wildlife Management Director Matthew Schnupp said. “Landowner cooperation is critical in these endeavors. Aggressive management strategies that reduce deer in other states have successfully demonstrated to eliminate these sparks of new infection.”

“Experiences from other states show, without action, CWD will continue to spread and infect more deer and elk over time,” according to the release.

“There is ongoing discussion of CWD and what the PGC can do about it,” Warren County Game Warden Dave Donachy said. “Our efforts are focused on limiting its spread. The action plan is based on what other states have or have not done to combat this fatal disease.”

The cases in Clearfield, Jefferson, and Franklin counties are the most recent and the one in Jefferson is the closest to date to Warren County.

“Currently, no cases of CWD have been detected in Warren County,” Colley said. “The closest CWD positive was detected in (late) 2017 in Pine Creek Township, Jefferson County, approximately 40 miles south of Warren County’s southeastern border. To date, there have been no more CWD positives detected since.”

“CWD has only been found in the wild deer population in nine of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties,” according to the release. “To date, CWD-positive wild deer have been detected in Bedford (79), Fulton (43), Blair (36), Cambria (3), Clearfield (2), Franklin (2), Huntingdon (1), Jefferson (1), and Somerset (1) counties.”

A map of CWD-positives by township can be found at

“If CWD would be detected in Warren County, the Game Commission would establish (roughly) a 10-mile radius Disease Management Area (DMA) surrounding the location of the new positive,” Colley said. “Within this DMA specific regulations apply to help prevent the spread of CWD. For instance, it is unlawful to export high-risk parts from DMAs into other parts of the state. This basically means hunters who harvest deer within the DMA and wish to take their deer home outside of the DMA, must quarter their harvest or take it to a processor prior to leaving the DMA.”

It’s not as easy as looking at a deer and knowing it has CWD.

“Unfortunately, CWD has an incubation period of 16 to 24 months,” Colley said. “Infected deer may not show symptoms for months or even years. Symptoms begin to appear in the late stages of CWD infection and include drooping ears, lowering of head, excessive drooling, rough hair coat, wasting or thinning, and exhibiting abnormal behavior, such as having no fear of humans or loss of coordination.”

“If you see a sick deer, contact your local regional office,” she said.

The Game Commission continues to work to prevent the spread and evaluate current conditions.

“The Game Commission began surveillance efforts in 2002, ten years prior to the discovery of CWD in Pennsylvania,” Colley said. “Since 2002, the Game Commission has sampled (tested) over 70,000 deer for CWD throughout the state. Surveillance efforts include sampling hunter-harvested deer or elk, road-killed deer or elk, escaped captive deer or elk, and deer or elk showing clinical symptoms of CWD. These samples allow the Game Commission to detect new cases of CWD outside of DMAs and monitor the extent of CWD within DMAs.”

Those efforts are underway throughout the state, including areas, like Warren County, which have not had a confirmed case.

“Hunters and landowners in Warren can help prevent the spread of CWD into their area by limiting the movement of high-risk parts, disposing high-risk parts properly (with their commercial trash to a lined-landfill), avoiding human-related activities that unnaturally congregate deer (such as feeding wild deer), and consider using alternatives to natural deer urine-based attractants.”