Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Posted on August 3, 2017



Andy Surra

Andy Surra is the TSO Editor.  A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Andy holds a BA in Political Science and is a native of Kersey, Pennsylvania in Elk County. He and his wife currently reside in the suburbs of Harrisburg. 




Recently, a Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) wildlife conservation officer shot a buck in Clearfield County which tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).  The spread of CWD presents a very serious problem for Pennsylvania’s outdoor community.

Before we go any further let’s make sure we all understand what we are talking about.

CWD 101

  • Chronic wasting disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or (TSE) of deer, elk, and moose.
    • It is a prion or abnormal protein most commonly found in the central nervous system but can infect the muscle of  an infected deer, elk, or moose
  • The disease is progressive and always fatal.
  • symptoms include: difficulty moving, listlessness, tremors, social-isolation, increased drinking and urinating, and consistent weight loss leading to death.
  • Currently, there is no evidence that CWD is a risk to humans but public health officials recommend avoiding exposure to CWD until further research is complete and a definitive scientific determination is made.


Research from other states suggests that once evidence of CWD is found in the wild it is only a matter of time before a significant percentage of the whitetail population in that area becomes infected. Experts on CWD will tell you that geographical obstacles such as mountain ranges can slow the spread of the fatal deer disease throughout a deer herd. So the discovery of CWD in the wild of Clearfield County has rightfully brought with it concern and hand-wringing from Pennsylvania sportsmen so often at odds with the “deer decisions” made by their commission. It remains undetermined (and highly disputed) whether this infected deer came to the northern tier by natural or commercial means. Rumors of an escape or purposeful release by a deer farm are running rampant through the online world and outdoor message forums.  The PGC maintains it has not found any evidence suggesting the animal in question had escaped or was released from a deer farm and it does not believe the infected deer migrated to northwestern Pennsylvania from southcentral PA where CWD is more prominently found in the wild.


Commissions and DNRs across the country have been disposing of animals suspected to be infected with CWD.

The truth of the matter may never out in this instance and we can choose to bicker back -and-forth about the cause until we are blue in the face. Or… We can focus on the only fact that matters and what I believe we can all agree on. We are facing a crisis of epic proportions and must come together to address it in order to preserve PA’s deer hunting tradition. Deer hunting in Pennsylvania has an annual economic impact well over a billion dollars and its part of our culture and heritage.  The stakes are high and we need to do everything we can to make sure the next generation has the same deer hunting opportunities we were lucky enough to have.

So how do we combat CWD?

Obviously, hunters will have to be part of the solution and significantly reducing the herd in infected areas seems to be working in other states. As an advocate for both balance between quality AND quantity in Pennsylvania’s deer herd it pains me to think about even further overly harvesting our deer population but that appears to be a necessary evil in combating CWD. The PGC will make 2,800 Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permits available in Disease Management Area 3 which includes Clearfield County.  Additionally, the PGC is planning to tap sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cull deer in the  infected areas, after hunting season, and during the winter months. But is that enough?


Some have suggested banning the use of deer urine and other bodily-fluid based lures and attractants. Other states are considering requiring double-fencing of captive deer farms to prevent captive deer from escaping into the wild and intensive culls in locations where new infections are discovered to eradicate deer in the “infected areas”.  I believe the commonwealth should dedicate funding to CWD science services to assist the PGC in monitoring, studying, and working with other states to implement best practices from across the country.

A wait-and-see approach from hunters will lead to certain disaster.  We have to do our part to combat CWD.  That means taking harvested deer heads to PGC collection sites/check stations and participating in the culling of the herd in infectious areas. Statewide archery season is coming soon.  Get in the woods and do your part.

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