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Busy time for CWD surveillance winds down

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Game Commission monitors the effects of chronic wasting disease (CWD) year-round, but the most intense surveillance efforts coincide with Pennsylvania’s deer hunting seasons. With those seasons now closed, the public can begin to view the results of these efforts on the CWD Surveillance Dashboard, which is available online at https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/CWDResultsLookup.

The CWD Surveillance Dashboard is updated weekly and features an all-new way to view past and current information related to the disease. This includes data organized by season, species (white-tailed deer or elk), age, collection method, sex and collection site (down to the township level). It also allows hunters who submitted their deer for CWD testing to directly access results online.

A tutorial on how to navigate the Dashboard is available at the Game Commission’s YouTube channel.

Since July 1 the Game Commission has collected more than 11,000 CWD samples from white-tailed deer. Hunters across three Disease Management Areas (DMAs) submitted almost 5,700 of those samples. Additionally, more than 3,100 CWD samples were collected statewide from processors. Given the volume of samples, several thousand are still pending analysis.

“As part of the Game Commission’s CWD Response Plan, we asked hunters to assist with CWD surveillance efforts by submitting their harvested deer’s head for testing,” said Game Commission CWD Biologist Andrea Korman. “Thousands of hunters participated in this effort and we are thankful for their help.”

The Game Commission’s CWD Response Plan was adopted by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners last summer and was developed in collaboration with Pennsylvania stakeholders, CWD experts from state and federal wildlife agencies and non-government organizations from across the country. It is available to view online at www.pgc.pa.gov/cwd.

One of the agency’s goals, as outlined in the CWD Response Plan, is to determine the extent of CWD infection in areas around a new detection that is at the leading edge of disease expansion. There were eight specific areas where Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) units were strategically created, all of which surround specific locations where a deer that tested positive for CWD had recently been identified.

Hunters in those eight DMAP units were offered additional antlerless tags to help meet surveillance goals. Increasing surveillance in these areas helps to determine if the infected deer was the beginning of, or a symptom of, an established infection. Results from these efforts also guide future management actions in each of the areas, on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to the DMAP units, last fall, the Game Commission selected two specific areas as Containment Zones (CZ). These zones are small areas — about a 1-mile radius, or the average size of a deer’s home range — around the location of an outlying CWD-positive deer.

Landowners and hunters within CZs are given more opportunities to remove deer that may have been in contact with the infected deer. Special regulations and extended hunting seasons were provided to cooperating landowners and hunters. The Game Commission will continue to work with landowners to reduce the risk of CWD establishing in, and spreading from, the immediate area(s) surrounding the initial CWD detections.

Most of the deer that tested positive for CWD in the 2020-21 hunting seasons continue to be from DMA 2, located in southcentral Pennsylvania. Specifically, they have been concentrated in Bedford, Blair and Fulton counties, which the Game Commission refers to as an Established Area (EA). This area has produced nearly 90% of Pennsylvania’s CWD positives since it was first detected here in 2012.

“Unfortunately, CWD is well-established in DMA 2, based on the number of positive cases we continue to detect,” said Korman. “DMAP units and containment zones are management efforts the agency is employing to slow the spread of CWD and prevent new areas of the state from becoming EAs. Research has shown that once CWD sampling prevalence rates exceed 5%, infections can increase rapidly. This 5% appears to be a tipping point. Last year, almost 6% of the whitetails tested for CWD in the EA were found to be positive. Lessening that sample prevalence rate in the EA is a top priority.”

The Game Commission’s next steps are to take collected CWD data and use it to create a broader CWD Management Plan. This plan will determine which management actions have been most effective in the past and which ones remain most appropriate to achieve optimum results in Pennsylvania.

“The Game Commission remains focused on doing what is best for Pennsylvania’s deer herd, which in turn ensures sustainable hunting opportunities for current and future generations,” said Korman. “We appreciate the continued support of hunters and the public. We especially thank hunters for their efforts. Hunting has been a large part of our management plans and will continue to be moving forward.”

More information about CWD in Pennsylvania, including access to the new CWD Surveillance Dashboard and the CWD Response Plan, is available online at www.pgc.pa.gov/cwd.

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