Elk NetworkCWD Spreads in Pennsylvania

General | June 12, 2023

Below is a news release from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

With a little time yet to go in the 2022-23 surveillance year, the Game Commission has already detected Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in more deer this year than the one before, once again highlighting the threat the disease poses to Pennsylvania’s deer and elk, and hunting heritage.

CWD is an always-fatal neurological disease affecting cervids, including deer and elk. There is no vaccine and no cure for animals that get it.

Since July 1, 2022, the Game Commission collected nearly 11,000 CWD samples from deer. Hunter-harvested samples made up the bulk of those, with more than 7,000.

To date, a total of more than 400 wild deer tested positive for CWD, 243 of them harvested by hunters. Both numbers are up from the year before when 261 deer overall, 174 of them harvested by hunters, tested positive.

The public can view the results of this ongoing surveillance effort on the CWD Surveillance Dashboard available at https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/CWDResultsLookup. It’s updated weekly and allows the public to view past and current information related to CWD and gives hunters who submitted their deer for testing access to results online.

“CWD surveillance is crucial to managing the disease,” said agency CWD Section Supervisor Andrea Korman. “CWD is a serious threat to deer and elk. Knowing where the disease is allows us to focus our efforts to keep more deer from becoming infected.”

One of those efforts is using CWD Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) units to focus harvest and surveillance. For 2022-23, there were 15 specific CWD DMAP units across the state. Hunters could purchase up to two additional antlerless permits to be used within these CWD DMAP areas.

In addition to CWD DMAP units, the Game Commission selected three areas last fall as Containment Zones (CZs). CZs are small areas – with about a 1-mile radius, or the average size of a deer’s home range – around the location of a high priority CWD-positive deer, meaning one in a completely new area or on the leading edge of CWD’s spread.

Landowners and hunters within these smaller CZs are offered additional opportunities to harvest deer that may have come into contact with the infected deer. These opportunities include both special regulations and extended hunting seasons. The Game Commission continued to work with these landowners after the hunting seasons to harvest additional deer surrounding the initial CWD detection.

“The results of this year’s efforts around recent detections were encouraging,” said Korman. “Landowners and hunters were supportive and eager to help protect deer in their area. This increased sampling close to the detections found no new CWD-positive animals.”

As with previous years, most of the deer that tested positive for CWD in the 2022-23 hunting season came from Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2), located in southcentral Pennsylvania, and were concentrated in the Established Area (EA) that covers portions of Bedford, Blair, Franklin, Fulton, and Huntingdon counties. This area, where CWD is considered established within the deer population, has produced nearly 90% of Pennsylvania’s CWD-positives since the disease first was detected here in 2012.

That’s why the Game Commission, in cooperation with the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State University and the Wildlife Futures Program at Penn Vet, the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, is conducting a CWD research study in that area. Crews captured 32 deer last winter in Bedford and Fulton counties and gave them ear tags and GPS collars.

“Based on the number of CWD-positive animals we continue to detect in this area, it’s clear that CWD is a persistent problem and will require long-term management,” Korman said. “People in Pennsylvania believe that responding to wildlife disease is one of the Game Commission’s most important roles.”

A critical part of this research is testing deer that have been ear tagged or collared. If you find or harvest a tagged deer, please call the number on the ear tags so samples can be collected.

In the meantime, this past season in Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 4A, which includes the EA, one in three hunter-harvested adult deer (more than 1 year old) tested positive for CWD. This is up from just a year ago when it was one in five. CWD was also detected in a free-ranging wild deer on the east side of the Susquehanna River for the first time, in Dauphin County.

Changes to DMA boundaries that result from newly detected CWD-positives will be developed and announced at a later date.

“Because of this continued spread, we increased the antlerless allocations in WMUs where CWD has been detected for this upcoming hunting season,” Korman said. “We will be closely monitoring the harvest to see if that increased allocation was sufficient to slow the spread of the disease, and if not, other options will be considered, including extending the seasons to create more opportunities for hunters to harvest deer in these areas.”

Agencies are limited in what can be done to address CWD, she added. Reducing deer populations is one of the only tools that has shown results.

“Hunters are passionate about deer in Pennsylvania,” said Bryan Burhans, Game Commission Executive Director. “And they will do just about anything to protect them. In this case, we need them to do what they do best. Hunt more!”

(Photo credit: Pennsylvania Game Commission)