Chronic Wasting Disease in Pennsylvania Deer: The Rising Threat and Implications

DeerPhoto by Jim Fawns on

HARRISBURG, PA — The deadly Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) found in the state’s deer population is causing alarm among Pennsylvania residents, marking the end of the busiest time for disease surveillance which trails the conclusion of the 2023-24 deer hunting seasons.

The disease, which impacts white-tailed deer and elk, has been noticed within the wild deer population in multitude areas of Pennsylvania. The threat posed by CWD is not restricted to the hunting season alone; it demands year-round monitoring. In an effort to keep the public informed, the Game Commission offers weekly updates through the CWD Surveillance Dashboard, which provides both past and present data related to the disease’s occurrence.

The seriousness of the disease is reflected in the numbers. From July 1, 2023, the Game Commission collected nearly 11,000 CWD samples from deer, with over 7,000 originating from hunters. Of these, 291 hunter-harvested deer were confirmed to be infected with CWD. These numbers highlight an increase in the disease’s prevalence. In the 2023-24 sampling year, over 440 deer tested positive for CWD, a rise from the 426 positive samples the previous year.

Andrea Korman, the CWD Section Supervisor, stresses the importance of the ongoing CWD surveillance in managing the prevalence of the disease. Identifying areas that are implicated with CWD aids in focusing efforts to manage the spread of the disease.

“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.”

A key strategy in this mission is the use of CWD Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) units. These units are pivotal in controlling the harvest of deer and surveilling the disease. In the 2023-24 season, there were 10 specific CWD DMAP units across the state.

It was essential to increase the hunting pressure and surveillance in these units to prevent healthy deer from exposure to CWD. Measures were taken to offer additional opportunities to harvest deer in three designated Containment Zones (CZs). These zones were intended to remove deer with potential CWD exposure, which in turn, helped minimize the disease spread.

Results from the increased sampling around detection zones were encouraging, with no new CWD-positive deer identified. However, Korman warns that because of the continued increase and spread of CWD, extended firearms seasons are imminent in some affected areas where harvest goals were not met.

This rising concern for Chronic Wasting Disease is no laughing matter. The disease is a persistent plague requiring long-term management. Residents of Pennsylvania, especially hunters, have a significant role to play. They can help in two ways: by participating in hunting, they can contribute to the reduction in deer population – one of the only known mitigation strategies for CWD, and by eagerly supporting the Game Commission’s efforts to keep the disease in check.

In conclusion, CWD is a grim reality for the state’s deer population. A combination of ongoing monitoring efforts, public awareness, and community participation in response initiatives might be our best defense against this pervasive disease. As the disease continues to spread, we must remain vigilant and committed to understanding and managing Chronic Wasting Disease, an ongoing threat to Pennsylvania’s biodiversity.

More information about CWD in Pennsylvania, including access to the CWD Surveillance Dashboard and the CWD Response Plan, is available the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.

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