I don’t know how many folks have heard of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), but if you haven’t, read further. Although I’ve heard about it, it was recently brought to my attention after reading an article in Pennsylvania Outdoor News (http://www.outdoornews.com/April-2013/Wondering-about-the-long-term-effect-of-CWD-on-deer-population/). While those who aren’t up date with environmental issues may not be familiar with it, it sure has caught the attention of wildlife officials across the State, particularly the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). Wildlife managers and hunters may sometimes clash over management strategies, yet they are all worried about the potential impacts of CWD on Pennsylvania’s deer and elk herds.
Chronic Wasting Disease occurs when an infectious protein, also known as a prion, is located in the brain of individual animals. These prions tend to become concentrated in the nervous systems and lymph nodes of infected animals. Similar in structure to Mad Cow disease in cows and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans, CWD affects cervids, which includes deer, elk, and moose. First discovered in the 1960’s in Colorado, only recently has it been found in Pennsylvania. The first cases of CWD were reported in captive deer farms in Adams County in 2012. Since then, two more cases have been found, with captive deer in Jefferson County and wild deer in Blair and Bedford Counties.
PA Elk (Photo: Elk Country Visitor Center)
Don’t panic though! CWD can’t spread from deer to humans; however, it is still probably wise to avoid consuming animals that are known to be CWD-positive. However, there are severe environmental and economic implications. CWD is known to always be fatal to deer, and is transmitted through physical contact by touch, feces, urine, and saliva. If the deer population were to die out in Pennsylvania, not only would that affect the structure of our forests, but it would also negatively impact the economy. Deer hunting in Pennsylvania has a rather large following; if we were to take away the costs of licenses, firearms, equipment, gas, and other costs associated with hunting, it would prove financially devastating to hunters and non-hunters alike.
Aside from the potential decimation of Pennsylvania’s deer herd, biologists are also worried the disease could spread to the state’s thriving elk herd. Elk bring in lots of revenue to the state; not only do hunters pay to hunt them, but they also serve as a major tourism attraction (http://elkcountryvisitorcenter.com/drupal/) for millions of visitors. As you can see, this whole CWD-thing is kind of a big deal from an environmental and business standpoint.
Because this is such a nightmare, the PA Game Commission is asking residents to report any suspected cases of CWD. Symptoms of animals that have CWD include trouble walking, drooling, loss of fear of humans, and severe weight loss. Any animals believed to be sick should be reported to the Game Commission (http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=1253813&mode=2#WhatIsCWD).
Deer with CWD; Note how sickly and skinny it looks (Colorado Divison of Wildlife)