Every fall several Warren area hunters head to other states or Canadian provinces to hunt, and many are successful. Unfortunately, it is the successful out of state hunters who may pose the greatest threat to deer hunting here in Pennsylvania by introducing Chronic Wasting Disease to this state.
Exactly how CWD has spread is not known for certain. But it has spread at an alarming rate. Starting from Colorado where it was first discovered in captive deer in 1967, it has spread into 23 states and Canadian provinces. These are Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
How it has missed Pennsylvania so far can only be attributed to good luck since our neighboring states New York and West Virginia have it. In West Virginia the area infected is only a few miles from Pennsylvania.
Ignorance or disregard of the law indicates it is all but sure to happen.
With hunting season coming soon, and thousands of Pennsylvania hunters headed out of state to hunt, we again are faced with a hazardous period. Those hunters who hunt in states where CWD has been detected will return with many wild game animals. The majority of that game will be cervids, members of the deer family. Cervids are the only animals known to carry the CWD virus.
CWD has not been known to affect humans, but there is no proof that it can not.
It is believed that CWD spreads by animal to animal contact, or from soil to animals.
Several state and federal agencies are involved in fighting CWD, one being the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The Game Commission has issued an executive order which prohibits the importation of certain cervid body parts into the state.
Banned are the head including the brain, tonsils, eyes and lymph nodes, the spinal cord and backbone, the spleen, the skull plate including antlers if visible brain or spinal cord material is present, the upper canine teeth if root structure or other soft material is present, any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord material, unfinished taxidermy mounts and brain-tanned hides.
"We don't know how CWD got across the Mississippi. It was probably in a truck," said Dr. Walt Cottrell, "
Cottrell is a Wildlife Veterinarian for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
"Every year we see violations of the parts ban," he said.
Since 2005 regulations have prohibited certain body parts of all members of the deer family that were harvested in a state known to have CWD infested animals from being brought into Pennsylvania. Those body parts are listed in the Hunting and Trapping Digest on page 52, but some hunters either do not read it, or they ignore it.
If, or when, CWD gets into Pennsylvania, the cause probably will be one of those hunters who disobeys the parts ban. The other potentially cause is importation of live cervids.
"Over 25,000 cervids are behind fences in Pennsylvania," Cottrell said.
That is more than any state but Texas. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has just 26 people to watch over them.
Once CWD gets here it will get into the soil. Then it becomes 700 times more infectious. In the parts of Wisconsin where it is known to exist, one in four adult male deer have it. In the part of Wyoming where it exists, it took only four years for 47% of the male deer to get it.
Once deer become infected with CWD, it is always fatal.
Once a place gets CWD, there is no known way to get rid of it.
"Every place it has ever got to, it is still there," Cottrell said.
The Game Commission is doing its best to prevent CWD from entering Pennsylvania. This will require the cooperation of every hunter who travels to a state or province where CWD is known to exist and harvests a member of the deer family. Cottrell is concerned that the message has not gotten across to many hunters. It will only take one to bring about the demise of deer hunting in the state.
Please hunt responsibly. Before heading out of state to hunt, check the Pennsylvania Game Commission web site for information about CWD including the Cervid Parts Importation Ban. Also check for all CWD regulations and information for your destination state or province.