No evidence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) was detected in Massachusetts deer based on data gathered during the 2004 hunting season. MassWildlife Deer Biologist Bill Woytek recently received results from a federally certified veterinary diagnostic laboratory that indicate that all the deer brain samples taken during last fall’s hunting season tested negative for the disease. During the fall 2004 deer hunting season, MassWildlife collected 294 heads from hunter and car killed deer across the state for CWD testing. This was the third year of sampling in Massachusetts as part of a nationwide CWD monitoring and surveillance program.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disorder known to affect white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk. However, the World Health Organization has concluded that there is no evidence that people can become infected with CWD. Chronic wasting disease was first identified in 1978 and remained located in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska for about a decade. In the past several years, jurisdictions in which CWD was more recently found include: Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin; plus Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. On March 31, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed that an adult doe from a captive herd in Oneida County, New York tested positive for CWD. The CWD diagnosis in New York state is the first instance of the disease detected in the northeastern United States.

While research continues, current information suggests that CWD is most likely transmitted by an abnormal protein present in the nervous system and lymphatic tissue of infected animals. These abnormal proteins are very stable and may persist in the environment for long periods, posing a risk to animals that come into contact with them.

As responsible stewards for all native wildlife in the state, MassWildlife has implemented strong regulations to prevent the disease from entering our borders and affecting the health of both our wild and captive deer populations. MassWildlife joined with other northeastern states to prohibit the importation of all species of live deer as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of CWD into wild or farm-raised deer. The importation prohibition is still in effect and applies to European red deer, sika deer, fallow deer and reindeer, all species commonly raised commercially.

“By banning the import of live deer into Massachusetts, we reduce the risk of Chronic Wasting Disease entering the state and help prevent our wild deer population from being exposed to this deadly threat,” states MassWildlife Deer Project Leader Bill Woytek. “We are in a strong position in Massachusetts because ten years ago, the Fisheries & Wildlife Board passed restrictive regulations regarding deer farming. Deer farming, with less than 20 farms across the state, is a limited venture in Massachusetts, particularly since possession and importation of white tail deer and elk on these farms is prohibited. As CWD research and surveillance continues, we will be able to further investigate and implement ways of preventing the spread of CWD into Massachusetts. ”

For information regarding CWD and actions taken by MassWildlife against this disease, click the Wildlife button at www.mass.gov/masswildlife. For national CWD information, click on the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance website at www.cwd-info.org.