HARRISBURG – Using newly-granted emergency powers, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross today issued an order banning the importation of specific carcass parts from states and Canadian provinces where CWD had been identified in free-ranging cervid populations.
The ban closely mirrors a similar ban issued on Sept. 21 by the state Department of Agriculture, with the support of the Game Commission. Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff used his emergency powers to issue the ban pending action by the Board of Game Commissioners to grant similar emergency powers to the agency’s executive director.
“With chronic wasting disease (CWD) present in free-ranging and captive wildlife populations in 14 states and two Canadian provinces, we must act responsibly and clearly to protect our wild and captive populations of deer and elk, as well as other cervid family members,” Ross said. “This ban applies to carcass parts from deer, elk or other cervids susceptible to CWD taken from the wild or from captive facilities in those states where CWD has been found in wild herds.
“There are many scientific unknowns about CWD, so this order may need to be altered in the future based on new discoveries, as well as new states that find CWD within their borders or other species that prove susceptible to the disease.”
Ross noted that a copy of this order will be provided to all state and provincial wildlife agencies in the United States and Canada. He noted that the order will be reviewed on an annual basis to see if adjustments are necessary to further protect Pennsylvania’s wild and captive deer and elk.
So far, members of the cervid family that have been found susceptible to CWD are white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, red deer and moose.
Hunters traveling to the following states will need to abide by the importation restrictions: Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming; as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The ban also impacts hunters traveling to Hampshire County in West Virginia, and those hunting within any specified containment zones in New York proactively identified by that state’s Department of Environment and Conservation. New York DEC officials already banned hunters from removing specific carcass parts from an area where CWD was identified early this year to prevent the possible inadvertent spread of the disease within the state’s borders.
Specific carcass parts prohibited from being imported into Pennsylvania by hunters are: head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and retropharyngeal lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft material is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord material; and brain-tanned hides.
Ross noted that the order does not limit the importation of the following animal parts originating from any cervid in the quarantined states, provinces or area: meat, without the backbone; skull plate with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord material present; cape, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft material is present; and taxidermy mounts.
On Oct. 4, the Board of Game Commissioners gave final approval to a measure granting certain emergency authorities to the executive director to prevent the spread of CWD, if it is discovered in or near the state or poses a serious threat to the Commonwealth’s deer and elk populations. After the regulatory change was published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, the regulation, among other things, empowered the executive director to ban the importation of specific deer or elk parts.
The Game Commission, with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture, has conducted tests on 162 elk and 6,259 deer killed by hunters in Pennsylvania over the past four and three years, respectively. Since 1998, the Game Commission, in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, has tested more than 400 deer that have died of unknown illness or were exhibiting abnormal behavior. No evidence of CWD has been found in these samples.
The Game Commission continues to monitor for and collect samples from deer and elk that appear sick or behave abnormally. Also, the agency recently collected samples from all hunter-killed elk and nearly 4,000 hunter-harvested wild deer for CWD testing.
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 theorize 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. The Center for Disease Control has thoroughly investigated any connection between CWD and the human forms of TSEs and stated “the risk of infection with the CWD agent among hunters is extremely small, if it exists at all” and “it is extremely unlikely that CWD would be a food borne hazard.” But, they also advise that meat from CWD infected animals, or animals that appear sickly, should not be consumed.
“Hunters spend a lot of time in the woods, and are a valuable source of information to wildlife agencies across the United States,” Ross said. “If a hunter sees a deer or elk behaving abnormally, or dying from unknown causes, contact the state wildlife agency and provide as much specific information as possible about where the animal was seen.”
Members of the Pennsylvania CWD task force recently signed the state’s response plan, which outlines ways to prevent CWD from entering our borders and, if CWD is in Pennsylvania, how to detect it, contain it and work to eradicate it. The task force was comprised of representatives from the Governor’s Office, the Game Commission, the state Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state Department of Health, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Initiated in 2003, a copy of the final plan can be viewed on the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) by clicking on “Reports/Minutes” and then selecting “Pennsylvania CWD Response Plan.”
“We know that Pennsylvania hunters are just as concerned about keeping CWD out of Pennsylvania as we are, and we are confident that they will do all they can to protect the Commonwealth’s whitetail and elk populations,” Ross said.
Websites for all 50 state wildlife agencies can be accessed by going to www.wheretohunt.org, which is a website maintained by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Additional information on CWD can be found on the CWD Alliance’s website (www.cwd-info.org).