The Massachusetts Fisheries & Wildlife Board voted unanimously at its September 28 meeting on Martha’s Vineyard to institute regulations designed to prevent Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) from entering the Commonwealth. CWD is a fatal neurological disorder known to affect white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and (just confirmed for the first time in Colorado) moose. While research continues, current information suggests that CWD is most likely caused and transmitted by an abnormal protein present in the nervous system and lymphatic tissue of infected animals. These abnormal proteins, called prions, are very stable and may persist in the environment for long periods, posing a risk to animals that come into contact with them.

While the World Health Organization has concluded that there is no evidence that people can become infected with CWD, it has the potential to decimate wild and captive deer herds. First identified in the late 1960s, it remained located in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska for about a decade. In the past several years, however, CWD has been identified in the mid-west and northeast parts if the country.

MassWildlife biologists have been sampling hunter- and car-killed deer for more than three years as part of a nationwide CWD monitoring and surveillance program. No evidence of CWD has been detected in Massachusetts deer, and 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 was imposed by Director’s emergency order in 2002, and is now a permanent regulation. It applies to all members of the deer family, including our native white-tailed deer as well as European red deer, sika deer, fallow deer and reindeer, all of which are commonly raised commercially.

On June 23 of this year, in response to recently confirmed incidents of CWD in wild white-tailed deer in New York, the Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted to approve the filing of emergency regulations relative to the importation of deer carcasses from states or Canadian provinces that have confirmed cases of CWD in deer or elk. The Board also held a public hearing on September 7th in Pittsfield to consider testimony regarding regulations relating to importation of deer meat/carcasses from other states. Based on the scientific recommendations of staff and the testimony of the public, the Board has now voted to enact regulations that make it illegal for anyone to import, process or possess whole carcasses or parts of deer or elk (from wild or captive deer herds) from states and Canadian provinces where CWD has been detected. Those locations are currently Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, West Virginia and Wisconsin; plus Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.

The only exceptions to the regulations are meat that is deboned, cleaned skull caps, hides and taxidermy mounts. By restricting importation to these specific deer parts, the importation of neurological tissue –which is where the disease-causing prions are located — is prevented, yet sportsmen and sportswomen hunting in “infected” states can still safely utilize any deer they harvest. Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island have similar regulations in place and are consistent with regulations set or proposed to be set by other state fish and wildlife agencies bordering states with confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease. 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.