With Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) nearly 10 miles south of the Pennsylvania-Maryland line, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a revised set of emergency powers to enable the agency’s executive director to take actions to mitigate risk factors and to determine the prevalence and geographic distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

“For more than a decade, the Game Commission has been monitoring our CWD status and striving to prevent CWD from coming to our state,” said Carl G. Roe, agency executive director. “While I hope that I never have to use these new tools, it is imperative that this agency’s executive director be properly empowered to contain the disease to one area and prevent, or at the very least, slow the spread of this disease.”

Under the emergency authority, if the executive director concludes the spread of CWD poses a threat within or adjacent to this Commonwealth, he will have the emergency authority to: prohibit the importation of high-risk cervid parts from areas that are known to harbor CWD; and define and designate Disease Management Areas (DMAs) in this Commonwealth.

Once a DMA is designated, the executive director will be able to use his emergency authority to take several actions, including: allowing the taking of cervids without regard to established seasons and bag limits and methods of take; requiring mandatory checking of hunter-killed cervids; prohibiting the removal of high-risk cervid parts; prohibiting the rehabilitation of cervids; prohibiting the use, collection, possession and exportation of cervid urine-based attractants; prohibiting the feeding of cervids; and prohibiting any new permits to possess or transport live cervids.

In such situations, it will be unlawful for any person to violate any provision of an Executive Order issued by the executive director.

First identified in 1967, CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that affects cervids, including all species of deer, elk and moose. It is a progressive and always fatal disease of the nervous system. Scientists theorize CWD is caused by an agent called a prion that is capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form, in turn causing the death of brain cells. Prions are present in and shed into the environment by infected animals through blood, urine, saliva and tissue of the central nervous system.

There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, nor is there a vaccine. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death. There is currently no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to humans, either through contact with infected animals or by eating meat of infected animals. The Center for Disease Control has investigated any connection between CWD and the human forms of TSEs and stated “the risk of infection with the CWD agent among hunters is extremely small, if it exists at all” and “it is extremely unlikely that CWD would be a food-borne hazard.”

As a preventative effort, the Game Commission prohibits hunters from importing specific carcass parts from members of the deer family – including mule deer, elk and moose – from a growing list of states and Canadian provinces. The importation ban applies to hunters heading to: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland (only from CWD containment area), Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York (Oneida and Madison counties), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia (only from CWD containment area), West Virginia (only from the CWD containment area), Wisconsin and Wyoming; as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Details on the importation ban are available on the agency’s website and on page 52 of the 2011-12 Digest, which is provided free to each Pennsylvania hunting and furtaker license buyer.

For more information on CWD and the state’s CWD-prevention plan, visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on “Wildlife” in the menu bar in the banner at the top of the page, then click on “Wildlife Diseases Home,” and choose “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).” Additional information on CWD can be found on the CWD Alliance’s website (www.cwd-info.org).

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