The ripple effects of a recent positive test for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in a free-ranging whitetail deer in northern Juniata County is changing regulations in Snyder County as the Pennsylvania Game Commission attempts to slow the spread of the disease.
“A landowner in Greenwood Township of Juniata County reported a deer acting strange on his property. it was lethargic and laying against his building,” said Bert Einodshofer, a spokesman for the Southcentral region of the game commission. “A warden was dispatched, the animal was euthanized and tested and came up positive for chronic wasting. It was concerning because it was so far away from other positive tests in the state, and the deer was in the clinical stages and likely sick on the land for a while.”
In response to that — and another positive test in Perry County found in a roadkill deer — the game commission extended its Deer Management Area into southern Snyder County, including everything below Route 522. The designation is based on geography of the positive test.
“We usually target a five-mile radius from the sample based on deer dispersal, in which young deer can travel upwards of five miles as they mature,” said Einodshofer. “We use major roadways and other borders to help people get a better idea of where the restrictions start.”
Among those changes, he said, no one is allowed to feed deer within a DMA.
“I know some people like to stick out a salt block and see the deer hang out close enough to see, but that is not allowed in this area anymore,” he said. “The goal is to minimize the potential spread of CWD, and we don’t want deer congregating together any more than necessary.”
For those who hunt in the DMA region, deer parts associated with CWD can not be transported into non-DMA areas. These portions include the head and spine, Einodshofer said.
“There are a lot of home butchers and processors in the central part of the state that may take leftover deer parts and dump them on their land somewhere, but that isn’t allowed anymore,” he said. “We recommend double-bagging the head and spine and taking them to a land fill. Also, use of natural deer urine as an attractant during hunting is prohibited within a DMA.”
Chronic Wasting Disease is a prion disorder that affects the brain of an infected deer species, which can include elk, causing a slow degradation and eventual death. There is no cure, and testing cannot be done on a live animal.
“Early onset symptoms include loss of the deer’s wild state. They lose their mental faculties, which is why we find a higher number of them hit alongside the road,” Einodshofer said. “As the disease progresses, the ears begin to droop, the deer starts salivating more and the body and neurological system breaks down as it becomes more and more weak and emaciated.”
Einodshofer added that there has been no scientific connection between chronic wasting in deer and any human contraction of the disorder, but the game commission still strongly recommends that people don’t eat the meat of any animals that test positive for the condition.
“You should take extra precaution until the animal is tested. If you hunt in a group with others, I’d wait to grind up the meat and combine it with others in the group until you know all the harvested deer are clear of chronic wasting,” Einodshofer said, adding that the game commission is looking into allotting extra antlerless deer permits in the DMA region as a way to help slow the spread of the potential condition.
The situation is concerning for area hunters as they learn about the restrictions and weigh whether or not they’ll continue hunting deer that may have some connection to CWD.
“Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the commission’s plans will do what they think — there is no real state-owned public land in this region. It is mostly posted private land,” said Dale Maneval, who hunts his family farm outside of Mount Pleasant Mills. “I’m not real acquainted with the disease itself, but from what I’ve heard, there is no real way to control it.”
Maneval plans to research the topic and watch how the game commission handles the situation between now and hunting season before changing his hunting strategies.
“I’m likely going to hunt the way I usually do, but it is probably going to change what I do with the meat,” he said. “If they come out and say they don’t want you eating the meat, it goes against what I have been taught that you don't just kill an animal without planning to use the meat.”
While the game commission only recommends not eating the meat of animals that test positive for chronic wasting, Maneval admits being leery of the agency’s ability to efficiently test all harvested deer conclusively.
“Let’s say that 5,000 deer are killed on opening day this year in Snyder and Juniata counties — there is no testing that can handle all of that,” he said. “Ultimately, I’ll probably still eat the meat of deer I kill locally, but I’ll likely change how I do up a deer as a safety precaution.”
Troy Bowersox, who hunts family land in the northern part of the county, is definitely concerned about the disease hitting closer to home.
“I’m definitely not looking forward to this issue being in our area,” he said. “I need to research it more, but if it is bad, I’ll probably stop hunting here.”