Mad deer zone expands

The discovery of chronic wasting disease in two more Bedford County deer has spurred the Pennsylvania Game Commission to expand a restricted hunting area to the Maryland border, officials announced Tuesday.

While experts haven’t found the fatal disease in any local deer killed in the 2013 hunting season, two animals killed on Bedford County highways last fall have since tested positive, commission representatives said in a news release.

Coupled with the discovery of an infected Maryland deer just miles from the Pennsylvania border, the discovery is set to add legal limitations on hunters in almost all of Bedford County.

Chronic wasting disease first hit Pennsylvania’s wild deer population in 2012, with three hunter-killed deer found to carry the brain prion during testing months after their deaths. Officials announced in March 2013 that the deer, all killed in southern Blair and northern Bedford counties, would almost certainly not be the last to test positive.

A disease management area covering parts of Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon and Cambria counties has restricted hunters’ ability to carry certain high-risk parts outside the region. During the 2013 season, hunters in the area were forbidden to feed deer or use urine-based lures, and organs including brains and lymph nodes couldn’t be taken outside the borders.

The zone’s expansion means hunters in almost all of Bedford County and a larger swath of Huntingdon County now face those rectrictions, as well as part of Fulton County. The affected area has grown from 900 square miles to 1,600, according to the commission.

The commission is considering additional restrictions in other parts of the state after a captive deer in Jefferson County tested positive for the disease, officials said.

In a positive note, the commission announced that, of thousands of wild deer tested since the 2013 hunting season, only the two Bedford County roadkills tested positive.

While chronic wasting disease is not believed to affect humans, health experts have warned consumers to avoid eating possibly infected meat out of an abundance of caution.