12 September 2023- Protecting Pennsylvania’s deer and elk from Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) remains a priority, now as ever. That hasn’t changed.
But the rules for hunters who harvest those or any other cervids outside of Pennsylvania or within parts of it have.
Previously, hunters were prohibited from bringing “high-risk” carcass parts from such animals taken in other states back to Pennsylvania. Hunters were likewise prohibited from moving those parts from any of the state’s Disease Management Areas (DMAs) or the Established Area (EA) to anywhere else in Pennsylvania.
High-risk parts include the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes, and any lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.
Those protections were meant to limit the human-assisted spread of CWD, a contagious, always-fatal brain disease affecting members of the deer family, first detected in Pennsylvania in 2012.
But they posed challenges, too. A hunter who harvested a deer within a DMA or the EA but lived elsewhere, for example, likely had to make a return trip to pick up their meat or mount.
Now, to continue battling CWD’s spread while also making things easier on hunters, the Game Commission is allowing hunters who harvest a deer, elk or other cervid outside of Pennsylvania to take it directly to any Game Commission-approved processor or taxidermist anywhere in the state. Hunters who take a deer within any of Pennsylvania’s DMAs or its EA can do the same.
The list of cooperators is available at www.pgc.pa.gov/cwd.
Hunters who process their own deer have options, too. If a hunter harvests a deer within a DMA or the EA and is transporting it home to process within that same DMA or the EA, they can do so as long as the high-risk parts are disposed of through a trash service. Hunters who live outside a DMA or the EA can quarter the animal to take it home, free of high-risk parts.
Also, although not recommended, high-risk parts can remain at the harvest location. But once they’re moved from the harvest location, high-risk parts cannot be placed back onto the landscape.
All these regulations also apply to deer killed in vehicle collisions and picked up for consumption.
The new rules do three things, said Game Commission CWD Section Supervisor Andrea Korman.
First, they ensure the proper disposal of high-risk parts, which is one way of preventing CWD’s spread to new areas. Processors and taxidermists on the list fill out an annual application, dispose of high-risk parts through a commercial refuse pickup service or other means approved by the agency and provide proof of that disposal method upon request.
Second, they enhance CWD surveillance, as cooperators must allow Game Commission staff to do biological sampling, such as CWD sample collection and deer aging.
Third, they make taking deer more convenient. That’s especially important for in-state hunters pursuing deer within a DMA or the EA, since reducing deer densities is one of the only effective methods for limiting CWD’s spread.
“Hunters, who have been our best partners in conservation for over a century, can help reach that goal by hunting and harvesting deer in areas with CWD,” Korman said. “These new rules just make it easier to do that.”
To provide hunters with further opportunity, the Game Commission is offering additional antlerless deer licenses this year compared to last in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) affected by CWD. There are also CWD Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) units where hunters can get additional antlerless licenses good for individual areas.
CWD DMAP information is available on the Game Commission’s CWD interactive map at http://bit.ly/PGC-CWDMapOpens In A New Window.
The Game Commission will examine the impact of all those additional licenses on the overall harvest at the conclusion of the 2023-24 seasons, to determine if they were sufficient to meet deer management goals. If not, additional measures might be recommended.
“Based on deer hunter surveys, we find that time is an important factor affecting deer hunters,” said Game Commission Deer and Elk Section Supervisor David Stainbrook. “Expanded hunter opportunity may be recommended if management goals cannot be met with current season structure and the increased antlerless license allocations alone.”
All hunters within a DMA or the EA can continue to get their deer checked for CWD for free. The Game Commission is once again placing head collection bins at multiple locations around the state. They’re identified on the agency’s website. Hunters who drop a deer head in a bin can check test results on the CWD dashboard at https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/CWDResultsLookup.
Pennsylvania first detected CWD in 2012 at a captive deer facility in Adams County. The Game Commission has tested more than 131,000 wild, free-ranging whitetails for CWD since 1998, along with more than 1,900 elk.
To date, CWD has been found in more than 1,400 deer, 243 of those taken by hunters last season. It has not been detected in Pennsylvania’s elk herd.
“Much is still unknown about CWD, so limiting exposure of all species to this known pathogen is essential,” Korman said. “The movement of high-risk carcass parts is a potential avenue through which CWD could be spread, and one that can be prevented.”