Bull elk

A bull elk in Elk County. Chronic wasting disease was found in a road-killed deer in Jefferson County just 2 miles from the southwest edge of Pennsylvania’s elk range, heightening fears that fatal CWD is spreading north toward the elk herd.

A road-killed deer found near the southwest edge of the Pennsylvania elk range has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, leading the Pennsylvania Game Commission to expand one of its disease management areas and create a new, sixth disease management area.

The always-fatal CWD affects members of the deer family, including whitetails and elk. There is no treatment or cure, and beyond the impact on Pennsylvania’s No. 1 species among hunters a major worry has always been that it would find its way into the state’s tourist-attracting elk herd.

The road-killed buck was found in Jefferson County on the northern boundary of DMA 3. It was collected as part of the commission’s ongoing CWD surveillance efforts.

As part of the state’s effort to contain the spread of the disease, when a new CWD-positive is found in a wild or captive deer or elk a DMA is established to reduce risk of human-assisted spread of CWD.

According to the commission, the new CWD-positive deer was found within 2 miles of the state’s elk management area, prompting the creation of DMA 6 within the elk management area, which includes portions of Clearfield, Elk and Jefferson counties. The establishment of DMA 6 — which extends to the state game lands just south of the borough of Ridgway — is designed to prevent high-risk deer parts from all of DMA 3 moving into the elk management area.

“If a CWD-positive animal is found within any elk hunt zone, all elk hunt zones will become a DMA due to the behavior and longer distance movements of elk,” said Andrea Korman, commission CWD wildlife biologist.

“If this were to occur, the impact on deer and elk populations, hunters and the public will be significant. Although this has not occurred yet, this newly found positive deer shows how close it is.”

Within DMAs, it is unlawful to remove or export any deer or elk high-risk parts, such as the head, spinal column, and spleen, from the DMA; use or possess deer or elk urine-based attractants; feed wild, free-ranging deer; or rehabilitate wild, free-ranging deer or elk.

To increase surveillance around the new CWD detection site, a new DMAP Unit was also created. More than 1,300 permits have been made available for the unit to allow hunters to take up to two additional antlerless deer. Hunters can get DMAP permits by providing the unit number (4760) online or at license-issuing agents.

In conjunction with the additional hunting opportunities, hunters are asked to provide samples for CWD testing. Submitting harvested deer heads for CWD testing helps determine the extent of CWD infection.

The Commission offers free CWD testing within the DMAs through head-collection containers it provides there. Locations of head-collection containers can be found at http://bit.ly/PGC-CWDMap. Hunters can check for test results for the heads they deposit online or by calling the CWD hotline at (833) 463-6293.

Hunters may not transport deer they kill from one DMA into another but can take deer they harvest to a processor within the DMA. A list of approved processors and taxidermists is available at the commission’s CWD webpages. Approved processors properly dispose of the high-risk parts.

Hunters may also dispose of high-risk parts in trash that is destined for a landfill or quarter the animal and leave the high-risk parts at the kill site. The meat, antlers (free of brain material) and other low-risk parts then can be transported outside the DMA.

Deer hunters getting taxidermy mounts also must take their harvests to a taxidermist within the DMA or on the list of approved processors and taxidermists for the DMA in which they harvested the deer available at the commission’s CWD webpages.

Although CWD has not been documented in humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends never eating the meat of a CWD-positive deer.

The initial discovery of CWD in Pennsylvania in 2012, on a deer farm in Adams County, led to the creation of Pennsylvania’s first deer management area, DMA 1, which has since been eliminated.

Subsequent discoveries of CWD led to the creation of 4 more DMAs: DMA 2, following the detection of the disease in multiple free-ranging deer in Bedford, Blair, Cambria and Fulton counties in 2012, and captive farm deer in Bedford, Franklin and Fulton counties in 2017; DMA 3, following detection in two captive deer farms in Jefferson County in 2014 and a free-ranging deer in Clearfield County in 2017; DMA 4, following detection in a captive deer at a farm in Lancaster County in 2018; and DMA 5, following detection in a hunting preserve in Warren County earlier this year.

More information on CWD is available at www.pgc.pa.gov/CWD.

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