HARRISBURG, PA - Disease respects no boundaries, as the ongoing global pandemic so very clearly shows.

That’s true with illness among wildlife as well as humans.

So the Pennsylvania Game Commission is commending new Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture regulations dealing with Chronic Wasting Disease in captive deer.

The Game Commission is responsible for managing wild, free-ranging deer in the Commonwealth. The Department of Agriculture has responsibility for captive deer, elk and other cervids.

That makes managing CWD a shared responsibility.

The Department of Agriculture’s new rules – put into place in late August – create a CWD Core Captive Management Zone in Bedford, Blair and Fulton counties. They intend to control CWD in that portion of the state where it is most prevalent, while also allowing deer farms to stay in business.

A complete look at the regulations can be found in a Department of Agriculture press release here: https://www.media.pa.gov/pages/Agriculture_details.aspx?newsid=958.

But boiled down, they are meant to halt the rapid increase in the number of CWD cases seen in the last two years, most especially in that portion of the state where disease prevalence rates are highest. That’s something all people interested in deer and deer hunting care about.

“We know that all deer, whether they be wild and free-ranging or captive, are susceptible to CWD. They all can get it, and all those that do die,” said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Game Commission. “So in the end, it makes no difference which way CWD travels, be that into the wild from behind a fence or vice versa. We just need to stop its spread where we can as best we can.”

The Department of Agriculture’s new regulations can help.

“This is a big step forward not just for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, but for CWD management as a whole and will help to further reduce the risk of spreading the disease across the Commonwealth,” said Andrea Korman, the Game Commission’s CWD biologist.

One key measure of Captive Management Zone regulations is a prohibition on the movement of high-risk parts outside its boundaries. Those include the brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes, backbone, spleen and anything containing visible brain or spinal cord material where the prions that spread CWD are concentrated.

The intent is to limit the spread of CWD from places where its more common to places where it’s still rarer.

That’s noteworthy and laudable, said Kip Adams, director of conservation for the Quality Deer Management Association.

“While we prefer no movement of live white-tailed deer, we applaud the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for prohibiting farms in the new CWD Core Captive Management Zone from moving high-risk parts out of the zone,” Adams said.

That prohibition also lines up with something the Game Commission is suggesting.

The agency’s Board of Commissioners adopted a new CWD Response Plan in July. It outlines how the Game Commission will tackle CWD moving forward.

One proposal in there is to create a CWD “Established Area” in all of Wildlife Management Unit 4A and a portion of WMU 2C. Notably, the area centers around Bedford, Blair and Fulton counties.

The Established Area is a geographic area where CWD detections occur contiguously and consistently from year to year. CWD is considered to be established within the deer population and, coupled with environmental contamination, poses a long-term threat to neighboring areas.

To mitigate disease transmission risks, remove diseased cervids from the landscape and prevent further contamination of the environment within the Established Area, the Response Plan recommends lowering deer densities.

Hunters already are getting the first chance to do that. Antlerless allocations were increased in those Wildlife Management Units within Disease Management Areas, and a 14-day concurrent antlered and antlerless firearms season was put in place.

Hunters are being encouraged to drop the heads from deer harvested there into special collection bins. They’ll be tested for CWD so as to paint a picture of where CWD exists on the landscape and to what degree.

Getting that information is critically important to managing this disease.

"Quickly acquiring and testing samples is one of our most powerful tools in combating CWD. Our wildlife scientists are focused on increasing the speed and accuracy of CWD testing,” said Dr. Lisa Murphy, Co-director of the Wildlife Futures Program and Resident Director of the PADLS laboratory at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center. “We are thoroughly committed to providing hunters and the Game Commission with rapid, reliable results in order to continue fostering critical understandings of this disease and, subsequently, implementing sound, science-backed management strategies.”

In the meantime, the Game Commission and Department of Agriculture will continue to work together to battle CWD. That cooperation is vital.

“It speaks to the importance of collaboration between agencies in order to mitigate the risks captive cervids and Pennsylvania’s free-ranging deer and elk populations may pose to each other,” Korman said.