Before booking that dream hunting adventure in the Midwest or Rocky Mountains, bone up on what you can bring home. Some parts of that trophy deer or elk may have to stay where it came from.
Last week a revised executive order from the Pennsylvania Game Commission updated existing restrictions banning the importation of some animal parts from areas where Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been confirmed. Iowa and Texas were added to a list of 21 states and Canadian provinces targeted in a Pennsylvania ban on the importation of particular parts of cervids, or animals in the deer family including white-tail and mule deer, elk and moose .
In a written statement, Carl Roe, Game Commission executive director, urged Pennsylvania hunters to alert the agency if they see deer acting strangely.
"Pennsylvania hunters are just as concerned about keeping CWD out of Pennsylvania as we are," he said.
Discovered in captive mule deer in 1967, and confirmed in wild animals in 1981, CWD is a progressive and always fatal disease that impacts the animal's brain and nervous system. Scientists believe it occurs when an unknown agent converts normal brain proteins into an abnormal form. It spreads among North American cervids through the direct transfer of body fluids including saliva and urine, or indirect transfer through soil. Curiously, indirect transfer of fluids through contaminated dirt greatly increases the protein's potency.
Symptoms include awkward or uncoordinated movement, lowered head and ears, rough coat, weight loss, excessive drooling, increased thirst and ultimately death. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found "no strong evidence" that CWD can spread to humans directly or by eating the meat of an infected animal. There has been no confirmed case of CWD in wild or high-fence populations of deer or elk in Pennsylvania.
Game Commission scientists are concerned, however, that specific cervid body parts that harbor microscopic CWD-active protein particles could be imported when hunters return from vacation hunting trips. Those particles, or prions, could remain active in the environment for years -- even decades -- after they're discarded. Particular bones in butchered venison, and full heads and skull plates with antlers intended for mounting are among the parts included in the ban.
States and provinces included in the ban are Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Partial bans include Virginia (only from the CWD Containment Area), New York (only from upstate Madison and Oneida counties), Maryland (only from the CWD Management Area adjacent to Pennsylvania counties Bedford and Franklin) and West Virginia (only from the CWD Containment Area in the eastern panhandle).
Roe said Pennsylvanians who hunt in Maryland and West Virginia should be particularly aware of the affected areas in those states. For details check the wildlife agency web sites: Maryland, www.dnr.state.md.us; West Virginia, www.wvdnr.gov.
Representatives of a U.S. hunting tourism trade association didn't reply to an interview request regarding this story. The manager of a commercial hunting lodge in Colorado wouldn't speak on the record about CWD, but said it's routine for hunters to ship home only the carcass parts permitted in their states.
Game Commission veterinarian Walt Cottrell said it's "remarkable that we haven't detected it yet" in Pennsylvania. More than 35,000 deer and elk killed by hunters or exhibiting abnormal behaviors have been tested for CWD with no positive cases found. But Cottrell said two of the biggest risk factors for spread of the disease are commercial deer farms with less stringent regulations under the state Department of Agriculture, and the importation of abnormal prions stored in parts of cervids harvested out of state.
"We don't want to discourage responsible hunting tourism or stop hunters from bringing home meat or mounts," said Cottrell. "There's an effort to maintain the viability of the hunting industry in these states, which is a big thing. But we need to educate hunters about not bringing the nervous and lymphoid tissues back home with them."
Parts included in the importation ban include the head (brain, tonsils, eyes and lymph nodes); spinal cord and backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers and cape (only if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present); upper canine teeth (only if roots or other soft tissue is present); unfinished taxidermy mounts and brain-tanned hides.