- The Pennsylvania Game Commission has banned the importation
of live deer and elk in an effort to prevent the state's wild and captive
herds from becoming infected with fatal chronic wasting disease.
- The ban, which begins tomorrow and will remain in effect
indefinitely, will affect nearly 700 deer propagators and 90 elk propagators
statewide, including one in Allegheny County.
- "We are fortunate to be able to assure the public
that we currently have no confirmed or suspected cases of [chronic wasting
disease] in Pennsylvania's wild or captive cervid herds, and we want to
see it stay that way," said Vern Ross, game commission executive director.
- Signs that a cervid -- all species of elk, deer, mule
deer or moose -- is infected include poor posture, lowered head and ears,
uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst,
excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death.
- There is no evidence so far of the disease having any
effect on humans or livestock.
- The disease, first detected in Colorado in 1967, has
spread to wild and captive elk, deer and mule deer in Wyoming, Nebraska,
South Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Canada, and, earlier this year, Wisconsin.
- "The one that put the fear of God in us was Wisconsin,
where it's been detected in the wild deer herd and no one knows how it
got there,'' said Jerry Feaser, a game commission spokesman. "It's
the first and so far only state east of the Mississippi River to have the
disease show up.''
- The commission estimates the state's wild deer herd population
is more than one million, and the wild elk herd is nearly 800.
- There currently is no reliable way to test live animals
for the disease nor is there a vaccine.
- The Game Commission has no estimates of the number of
deer or elk that are imported into Pennsylvania annually. But last fall
two shipments of farmed elk from infected ranches in Colorado were brought
into the state. The animals were located, killed and tested by the U.S.
and Pennsylvania Departments of Agriculture.
- "Fortunately, all of these high-risk animals tested
negative for CWD," Ross said. "However, this wake-up call demonstrated
that Pennsylvania's borders were wide open for the introduction of this
disease, and the state's farmed deer and elk industries, and wild deer
and elk populations, could be placed at risk."
- Bill Duncan, a Butler County farmer who has raised elk
for seven years and has 64 on his farm now, said the import ban will hurt
the industry, which raises elk for hunting preserves, meat and the velvet
antler trade, which uses ground-up antlers as a vitamin supplement in some
- Although Pennsylvania has a large wild deer population,
deer are bred in captivity primarily to fill the demand for trophy bucks
from private hunting preserves.
- "We're in favor of a tighter quarantine but we're
not in favor of totally shutting down the borders,'' Duncan said. "Most
of the states have monitoring programs now and the U.S. Department of Agriculture
will be publishing standards in September. I think it would have been better
to have waited and had a uniform policy.''
- Currently, about 20 other states, including New York,
New Jersey, Texas, Vermont and Indiana, have implemented complete importation
bans. In April, the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency Directors
endorsed an immediate moratorium on the importation of all live cervids
into any northeastern state.
- If the disease spreads into Pennsylvania it could have
devastating effects on the state's $4.8 billion hunting economy and 45,000
hunting -- related jobs, Feaser said.
- "We are taking note of what's happening in Wisconsin,
where hunting license sales have dropped,'' Feaser said. "So they
won't have the hunter numbers out to contain the disease and will have
to hire people to do it.''
- Wisconsin is attempting to stop the spread of the disease
by killing off thousands of deer.
- Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum called a special session
of the legislature in May to address the CWD outbreak, and the state will
spend $4 million to test the killed deer this year. Wisconsin is also seeking
$18.5 million in federal funding over the next three years for the disease
- While monitoring and testing of wild and captive elk
herds started two years ago in Pennsylvania, there has been no testing
of the wild or captive deer herds, even though deer are more susceptible
to the disease.
- CWD is a transmissible disease of the nervous system
that is progressive and always fatal. Scientists theorize CWD is caused
by an unknown agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into
an abnormal form.
- Ross said the Game Commission worked with Penn State
University veterinary officials to test for CWD and other diseases in the
elk taken during the 2001 elk hunt and all test results were negative.
- "For the coming elk hunting season, we will continue
to test all elk taken by hunters,'' Ross said, "and we will train
our deer tagging teams who visit meat processors to collect a significant
random sample from hunter-killed deer during the 2002 rifle deer season
for CWD testing."