A huge swath of Lancaster County is now part of a Pennsylvania Game Commission management area designed to control the spread of chronic waste disease among wild deer.
And it will have a big impact on local hunters hunting deer in some of the county’s best hunting lands.
Following last year’s discovery of the ever-deadly CWD in four of 33 captive deer on a farm in Upper Leacock Township, the Game Commission recently expanded CWD Disease Management Area 4 to cover more than half of Lancaster County.
DMA 4 was created in 2018 after two trapped deer on a farm in West Cocalico Township were found to be affected by CWD.
At that time, the zone covered 346 square miles across parts of Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks counties. The Lancaster County area within the zone was limited to northeast around Denver.
Following the discovery of Upper Leacock, DMA 4 now covers 743 square miles, with all additional land located in Lancaster County. The zone runs mainly from Holtwood to West Cocalico Township.
Only the northwest corner and the Lancaster County slivers in the east and extreme south are not included in DMA 4.
Chronic waste disease is an always deadly condition that attacks the central nervous system of the brain, elk and other deer animals. There is no cure, and the only way to test an animal for it is after the animal is dead.
Since CWD was first found in a wild deer in Pennsylvania in 2012, 453 free-standing deer have been found to have it across Pennsylvania. However, the epicenter of CWD here is in a south-central area including and surrounding Bedford County.
When the Game Commission creates a DMA, some fairly influential rules are adopted that mainly concern hunters. Here’s an overview of the requirements:
• You cannot remove from the zone any “high-risk” portions of deer shot within the DMA 4. High-risk portions include anything containing the brain or spinal cord, spleen and lymph nodes.
• Basically, if you take a deer to a meat processor or taxidermist, you must do so within DMA 4. If you process your own deer and live outside DMA 4, but hunt within DMA 4, you will either have to use a local processor or process your deer within DMA 4, before bringing home any meat.
• You cannot use any urine-based hunting bulbs or lures.
• You cannot place any mineral licks or food for wild deer.
Collecting compartments will be placed at various locations throughout DMA 4 where hunters can deposit to test the deer heads they shoot.
The Game Commission will test those heads and hunters can then learn about the deer they shot had CWD.
There is no evidence that CWD can be obtained from people who eat deer from an infected deer. But the Centers for Disease Control recommends that people do not eat meat from deer that test positive for the disease.
If you have never hunted in a DMA before, these rules can have a major impact on your hunting experience. And although they mainly affect hunters hunting wild deer, the rules were adopted because of deer caught on two private farms.
The Gaming Commission has no evidence of CWD in nature within DMA 4.
Last year, the agency tested 469 wild deer in the original DMA 4, and no one was found to have the disease.
So why put in place rules that primarily affect hunters hunting wild deer when CWD was only found in six deer on two private farms?
“There is potential for transmission to occur between prisoners and wild deer that come into contact with each other through the fence, or if prisoners escaped even if the latter were recovered,” say the agency’s staff.
“Therefore, monitoring and precautionary measures are necessary to determine if the wild population in that area is infected and if additional management measures are needed.
“Given the obvious low infection rate in this area, if CWD is detected in the local wild population, the DMA and associated regulations will have in place to help the Gaming Commission control the disease before it becomes established in the landscape.”
And why was so much land added to the DMA around the Upper Leacock Farm – especially since Upper Leacock has very little forest land?
“There are two reasons why the border is where it is,” says the agency’s staff.
“First, the border to the south extended the possibility of placing dumpsters on PGC property (At Muddy Run and State Game Lands 136) and increasing the opportunity for hunters to provide samples.
“Secondly, the larger area increases the opportunity to collect adequate samples. Sample sizes will be a critical part of the decision to eliminate DMA after 5 years if no other CWD-positive plants or deer are detected in DMA. “
It seems to have a major impact on hunting caused by captive deer.
But the Gaming Commission has no authority over deer grown on farms. Those deer are covered by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
The Gaming Commission is in discussions with the Department of Agriculture to require double fencing around deer farms, which would prevent wild deer outside the fence from coming into contact with deer inside the fence.
The Gaming Commission staff also said that they are “trying to work with (the department) on (a variety of) CWD-related issues.”
The Gaming Commission has drawn up a state plan to deal with CWD, which contains a number of new rules and strategies. The Agency’s Board of Directors is expected to vote on July 25.