The thousands of Pennsylvania hunters who soon will be heading off to hunt big game in other states can do their share to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in the commonwealth.
Those who hunt out-of-state are reminded that Pennsylvania prohibits importing specific carcass parts from members of the deer family - including mule deer, elk and moose - from 21 states and two Canadian provinces.
The parts ban affects hunters who harvest deer, elk or moose in:
Maryland (only from CWD Management Area);
New York (only from Madison and Oneida counties);
The CWD containment areas in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland; and
Pennsylvania hunters harvesting any deer, elk or moose in those areas, whether the animal was taken from the wild or from a captive, high-fence operation, must comply with rules aimed at slowing the spread of CWD in Pennsylvania.
CWD was detected in Pennsylvania for the first time last year.
Those hunting out-of-state must leave behind the carcass parts that have the highest risk for transmitting the disease - the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and any lymph nodes); spinal cord and backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.
"This is the first time that we've entered the fall hunting seasons knowing that we have chronic wasting disease inside Pennsylvania," Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said. "But that doesn't mean we've given up the fight to slow the disease's spread or make its impacts on our deer herd as minimal as possible.
"While we wish Pennsylvanians luck in all of their out-of-state hunts, we also ask them to make sure they're ... bringing back home with them only the parts they're allowed," he said.
Hunters who are successful in those areas from which the importation of high-risk parts into Pennsylvania is banned are allowed to import meat from any deer, elk, moose, mule deer or caribou, so long as the backbone is not present. Successful hunters also are allowed to bring back cleaned skull plates with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present; capes, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present; and finished taxidermy mounts.
Roe urged hunters heading to a state with a history of CWD to become familiar with that state's wildlife regulations and guidelines for the transportation of harvested game animals.
Pennsylvania detected its first case of chronic wasting disease last year in a captive deer kept at an Adams County facility, and another deer that had lived in the same pen later tested positive for the disease. Since that time, the disease was detected in three free-ranging deer harvested by hunters in Bedford and Blair counties during the 2012 firearms deer season.
In response to those cases, the Game Commission has outlined two Disease Management Areas (DMAs) totaling about 1,500 square miles, and special rules regarding deer hunting, the feeding of wildlife and the transport of high-risk deer parts apply within those areas. Maps of the DMAs are available at the Game Commission's website and are shown on pages 53 and 54 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is presented to each Pennsylvania license buyer.
The exact rules deer hunters within those areas will need to follow are being finalized and will be announced soon by the Game Commission.
However, those who live in a DMA and are successful in out-of-state hunts should know that like other Pennsylvanians hunting out-of-state they are permitted to bring low-risk deer parts back home with them.
Roe said hunters who harvest a deer, elk or moose in a state or province where CWD is known to exist should follow instructions from that state's wildlife agency on how and where to submit the appropriate samples to have their animal tested. If, after returning to Pennsylvania, a hunter is notified that his or her game tested positive for CWD, the hunter is encouraged to immediately contact the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which they reside for disposal recommendations and assistance.
A list of region offices and contact information appears on page 5 of the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. The contact information also is available on the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) by putting your cursor on "About Us" in the menu bar under the banner, then selecting "Regional Information" in the drop-down menu and then clicking on the region of choice in the map.
First identified in 1967, CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that affects cervids, including all species of deer, elk and moose. It is a progressive and always fatal disease of the nervous system. Scientists believe CWD is caused by an unknown agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form.
There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, nor is there a vaccine. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death. There is currently no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to humans, either through contact with infected animals or by eating meat of infected animals.
As a precaution, however, humans are advised not to eat the meat of any animal testing positive for the disease.
Much more information on CWD, as well as a video showing hunters how they can process venison for transport and consumption, is available at the Game Commission's website.
Wildlife officials have suggested hunters in areas where chronic wasting disease (CWD) is known to exist follow these usual recommendations to prevent the possible spread of disease:
- Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears sick; contact the state wildlife agency if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
- Wear rubber or latex gloves when field-dressing carcasses.
- Bone out the meat from your animal.
- Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
- Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field-dressing is completed.
- Request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal, or process your own meat if you have the tools and ability to do so.
- Have your animal processed in the endemic area of the state where it was harvested, so that high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of there. Only bring permitted materials back to Pennsylvania
- Don't consume the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will help remove remaining lymph nodes.)
- Consider not consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.