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CWD testing offers peace of mind

State putting results online so hunters can track progress

There’s never been excessive salivation, listlessness and teeth grinding exhibited by people who eat meat from deer infected with chronic wasting disease.

But hunters can saw off a deer’s head and dump it in a collection bin to be tested by the Pennsylvania Game Commission if they want to know whether the deer that will feed their family has CWD.

Testing of deer is optional and free to hunters who want peace of mind that their food is CWD-free. Hunters can expect CWD test results approximately three to four weeks after submitting deer heads into a head collection bin, said Game Commission spokeswoman Courtney Colley.

In previous years, hunters whose deer didn’t have CWD were notified of test results primarily through the mail. While hunters will still be notified with mailed letters, there is now a quicker way to get the results.

The online CWD lookup page allows hunters to keep track of their CWD test results online.

The link for that page is https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/CWDResultsLookup.

But hunters have the meat processed and frozen while they wait for results. For the price they pay to get the meat prepared, they are going to eat it regardless of the CWD test results, one hunter said.

The Game Commission’s CWD test is free, but processing deer meat is costly, said hunter Corey Fleck of Duncansville.

“It can cost between $60 and $100 to process a deer. I’ve talked to a lot of hunters this season, and the consensus I’ve found is they aren’t going to throw it away just because their CWD test results came back positive,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend not eating deer with CWD. However, the disease, discovered in 1967, has never been linked to human illness.

CWD is a transmissible neurological disease of deer and elk that produces small lesions in brains of infected animals. It is characterized by loss of body condition and behavioral abnormalities.

The testing results are also used by the Game Commission for targeting deer families that may be spreading the disease.

The head collection bins are set in Disease Management Areas, so-called because that’s where the Game Commission identified the highest rates of positive CWD tests.

A map of those areas on the Game Commission website shows “Disease Management Area 2” includes all of Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, Fulton and Franklin counties as well as parts of Cambria, Somerset, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland and Adams counties.

To prevent the spread of the disease, it’s unlawful for a hunter to transport a deer outside of a disease management area without removing the high risk parts, including the brain and spinal cord. Hunters may transport a deer outside of a disease management area after the high-risk parts are removed, either in the field or by taking the deer to a processor within the disease management area.

Hunters who choose to dress a deer in the field and toss the head in a bin for testing don’t have to sacrifice the entire head; they can cap the skull and keep the antlers, Colley said. But the rest of the head, including the ear with the harvest tag, must go in the bin, which causes some confusion among hunters about how a tagless deer can be accepted by processors and taxidermists.

Colley said the Game Commission gets that question from hunters all the time.

“Processors as well as taxidermists often want to see a harvest tag. But most should already be aware there is free testing for CWD. Let them know the reason you don’t have a tag is because you submitted the head for CWD testing,” she said.

However, McCready’s Deer Processing owner Jason McCready in Hollidaysburg, said that opens the door to illegal kills.

He won’t accept deer that are headless and not displaying a harvest tag. Instead, he’ll process the deer and give the head back to the hunter to drop in a collection bin.

“Some of your customers and others you talk to are concerned about eating CWD deer and want to get their deer heads checked,” he said. “And some don’t care because we’ve been eating it for years.”

Midway through this hunting season, Game Commission CWD management staff and database managers are still pulling hunter harvested deer heads from bins and could not provide a number on Friday.

But Colley said as of Nov. 25, prior to rifle season, the Game Commission had collected 6,136 samples from wild deer for CWD testing across the state, of which 4,346 wild deer have been tested.

A total of 70 wild deer have tested positive for CWD across the state in 2019, and 68 of those wild positives were detected from 3,038 deer tested in DMA 2, or about 2.2 percent so far.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.

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