HARRISBURG – With thousands of Pennsylvania hunters heading off to hunt big game in other states and Canadian provinces, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe reminded hunters that, in an effort to prevent the introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) into the Commonwealth, the agency prohibits hunters from importing specific carcass parts from members of the deer family – including mule deer, elk and moose – from 18 states and two Canadian provinces.
Roe noted that this importation ban is a revised executive order signed into effect in July, and affects hunters heading to: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York (only from CWD containment area), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia (only from CWD containment area), West Virginia (only from Hampshire County), Wisconsin and Wyoming; as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Roe emphasized that the new executive order prohibits hunters from bringing back the tissue described below from any cervid from these states or provinces, whether the animal was taken from the wild or from a captive, high-fence operation.
The specific carcass parts that cannot be brought back to Pennsylvania by hunters are the ones where the CWD prions (the causative agent) concentrate in cervids, and they are: 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.
Roe noted that the prohibition does not limit the importation of: meat, without the backbone; cleaned skull plate with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present; cape, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present; and finished taxidermy mounts.
Pennsylvania hunters heading to a state with a history of CWD should become familiar with that state’s wildlife regulations and guidelines for the transportation of harvested game animals. Wildlife officials have suggested hunters in areas where CWD is known to exist follow these usual recommendations to prevent the possible spread of disease:
– Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears sick; contact the state wildlife agency if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
– Wear rubber or latex gloves when field-dressing carcasses.
– Bone out the meat from your animal.
– Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
– Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field-dressing is completed.
– Request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal, or process your own meat if you have the tools and ability to do so.
– Have your animal processed in the endemic area of the state where it was harvested, so that high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of there. Only bring permitted materials back to Pennsylvania.
– Don’t consume the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will help remove remaining lymph nodes.)
– Consider not consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.
Roe said hunters who harvest a deer, elk or moose in a state or province where CWD is known to exist should follow that state’s wildlife agency’s instructions on how and where to submit the appropriate samples to have their animal tested. If, after returning to Pennsylvania, a hunter is notified that his or her game tested positive for CWD, the hunter is encouraged to immediately contact the Game Commission for disposal recommendations and assistance.
The Game Commission, with the assistance of the Pennsylvania and U.S. departments of Agriculture, has conducted tests on more than 26,000 Pennsylvania deer and elk that have either died of unknown illnesses, were exhibiting abnormal behavior, or were killed by hunters. No evidence of CWD has been found in any of these samples.
The Game Commission will continue to monitor this disease and collect samples from deer and elk that appear sick or behave abnormally. The agency plans to test all hunter-killed elk and approximately 4,000 hunter-harvested wild deer for CWD again this year.
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 unknown agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form.
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.”
“Hunters spend a lot of time in the woods, and are a valuable source of information to wildlife agencies across the United States,” Roe said. “If a hunter sees a deer or elk behaving abnormally, or dying from unknown causes, contact the state wildlife agency and provide as much specific information as possible about where the animal was seen.”
In 2005, Pennsylvania CWD task force members completed the state’s response plan, which outlines ways to prevent CWD from entering our borders and, in the event CWD is found in Pennsylvania, how to detect it and contain it. The task force was comprised of representatives from several state and federal agencies, including the Game Commission, the state departments of Agriculture, Health and Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as representatives from stakeholder groups including hunters, deer farmers, deer processors and taxidermists. The plan is updated annually, and the current plan can be viewed on the Game Commission’s Web site by putting your cursor on “Wildlife” in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then put your cursor on “Wildlife Diseases” from the drop-down menu, and then clicking on “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).” This page also includes links to tips for taxidermists and meat processors, as well as the CWD Alliance’s Web site.
Information on CWD also is published on page 52 of the 2010-11 Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, which is presented to each license buyer.
“We know that Pennsylvania hunters are just as concerned about keeping CWD out of Pennsylvania as we are, and we are confident that they will do all they can to protect the Commonwealth’s whitetail and elk populations,” Roe said.