Two Valley deer farms are among 27 in Pennsylvania to be quarantined up to five years as state officials scramble to contain and possibly eliminate the threat of chronic wasting disease after two confirmed cases in Adams County.
Complicating efforts earlier this week, a whitetail doe escaped from the New Oxford farm while state officials were attempting to “depopulate” and test the animals for the disease. Locating and testing the fugitive deer — now known as Pink 23 — has become a top priority for those who don’t want to see the contagious and fatal deer-borne chronic wasting disease being spread into Pennsylvania’s wild deer population.
“The U.S. Wildlife Service has placed cameras and we are expanding our search,” state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Samantha Krepps said. “We need Pink 23. We need to find her and test her as a way to help contain the possible spread of chronic wasting disease.”
Part of the state’s response was to create a 600-square-mile restricted zone in southcentral Pennsylvania where hunters must follow special guidelines. Another precaution has been to quarantine 27 of Pennsylvania’s 1,100 deer farms and hunting preserves. Among them are the Nittany Mountain Hunting Preserve near New Columbia and Power View Whitetails near Danville.
Quarantine not fair
It is an unfair process, argued Melissa Beachel, whose husband, Denis, owns Power View Whitetails, which raises deer to sell for meat.
“At first the game commission was in charge of deer farms, but after the agriculture department took over, we had to keep logs of everything and use ear tags in each animal,” Melissa Beachel said. “If a deer died, we had to send the brain stem for testing. You work so hard to follow all the regulations as honest people trying to do everything right. And now, we’re the ones who are stuck with deer that will need to be fed and cared for over the next five years and we can’t get anything in return. How are we supposed to manage that?
“And why? Because we happened to buy deer from a farm that years ago sold a 3-week-old fawn that eventually died from chronic wasting disease in a different part of the state? Who’s to say it didn’t get the disease at some point over the past several years down there?”
According to Krepps, the 27 locations were chosen because deer at those farms had been in contact, either directly or indirectly over the past several years, with one of the two confirmed chronic wasting disease cases.
“The original doe came from a Lycoming County farm and was moved to four different farms on its way to Adams County over the past several years,” Krepps said. “We had to start looking at connections and trace them out to other farms that may have deer that came in contact with the infected animal.”
State response proper
Nittany Mountain Hunting Preserve has 21 deer and offers — mostly to handicapped children and veterans — approximately 15 hunts per year. Despite the obvious financial hit the preserve will take, owner Michael Ficks thinks the state made the right call.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Ficks said. “If there is something out there, we need to stop it. I respect the state for taking a hard stance on the issue.”
Chronic wasting disease is a neurological condition that attacks the brains of cervids (deer, elk and moose), causing lesions that eventually lead to death. It is believed to be transferred through direct contact between deer through saliva, urine or feces.
While chronic wasting disease is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep, there is no evidence that the disease affects humans. However, public health officials urge caution as research continues. There is no vaccine or cure for chronic wasting disease.
“There is no reason to believe there are any threats to the Sunbury area,” Pennsylvania Game Commission representative Jerry Feaser said. “More than 38,000 animals since 1998 — between those killed by hunters and others that seemed suspicious — have been tested for chronic wasting disease and not a single one has been positive.
“However, hunters and those in the general public who see a deer acting strangely should still take proper precautions. Report what you’ve found to the game commission or agriculture department.”
Signs of disease vary
Symptoms of deer with chronic wasting disease can be similar to those shown with other more common illnesses. Typically, deer with chronic wasting disease will show no symptoms at first, but eventually will start drinking and salivating excessively, lose a noticeable amount of weight, lose fear of humans and other predators and become disoriented and clumsy while walking or running.
“I just hope people don’t get scared off from hunting because of all this,” Ronald Reich said at his rural New Berlin farm where he tends to nearly 40 whitetailed and farrow deer. “We’re talking about a deer or two from a private farm versus a large population of healthy, active wild animals that people have been hunting safely and successfully for generations.”
For more information, go to www.agriculture.state.pa.us and click on the chronic wasting disease banner on the top of the page.
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org