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CWD expands; bird flu breaks out in Pennsylvania

By Walt Young

For the Mirror

For almost a decade now, my least favorite topic to write about has been the outbreak of chronic wasting disease in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, CWD has been an all too frequent and necessary subject for the past 10 years, and it appears this disease will continue to be a timely topic for the foreseeable future.

I first began researching CWD more than 20 years ago when it was largely confined to the western states of Colorado and Wyoming but began moving toward the upper Midwest. Even then, I was doubtful I would see CWD spread east of the Mississippi River, much less into Pennsylvania. How wrong that assumption turned out to be.

CWD showed up in West Virginia in 2005 and was detected in Virginia and Maryland in 2010. In October of 2012, CWD was confirmed in Pennsylvania in a captive deer in Adams County. Later that fall, two wild deer taken by hunters in Bedford County and one in Blair County tested positive for CWD. In response to these cases, two separate Disease Management Areas, DMA 1 in Adams County and DMA 2 in Blair and Bedford counties. DMA 1 was eliminated in 2017 after no further cases of CWD were discovered there for five consecutive years. DMA 2, however, has continued to expand as more infected deer were found each year and now includes all or parts of Adams, Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clearfield, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana, Juniata, Mifflin, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder, Somerset, Union, and Westmoreland counties.

In 2014, CWD was found in two captive deer facilities in Jefferson County, resulting in the formation of DMA 3. After three wild deer tested positive for CWD in Clearfield and Jefferson counties in 2017, DMA 3 was expanded to more than 2,000 square miles. DMA 6 was created in 2021 after CWD was found on the border of DMA 3 just two miles from the elk range as an extra buffer to prevent CWD from spreading into the elk range.

Three other DMAs were created recently when CWD infected deer were discovered in captive facilities. DMA 4 was created in 2018 when a captive deer tested positive for CWD in Lancaster County. DMA 4 was expanded in 2019 and 2021 when other infected deer were found in other facilities. DMA 5 was created in 2021 when a captive deer tested positive for CWD in Warren County. DMA 7 was created in 2022 when a captive deer tested positive for CWD in Lycoming County. So far, no wild deer have been detected with CWD in DMA 4, DMA 5 or DMA 7.

In late March, yet another piece of gloomy news about Pennsylvania wildlife surfaced when a bald eagle found dead in East Marlborough Township, Chester County, was discovered to be infected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus. This avian influenza was first detected in North America in December 2021, and the eagle was the first case of HPAI in a Pennsylvania bird. Soon after the discovery of the infected eagle, four hooded mergansers were found dead and another exhibiting neurologic signs at Kahle Lake in northwest Pennsylvania. Tests results are still pending, but these birds are suspected to have HPAI. So far, HPAI has been found in wild or domestic birds in 20 eastern and midwestern states.

The PGC has said that “Because avian influenza viruses are naturally occurring and ever-present in wild birds, preventing or controlling HPAI in wild populations is not feasible.”

So far, wild bird populations have not been widely affected by HPAI, but there is concern that an HPAI outbreak could be devastating to the commercial poultry industry. Although HPAI can infect humans, no cases of this strain has been found in humans in the United States. It is recommended to avoid handling or contact with any sick or dead wild or domestic birds and to report such birds to the Game Commission at 610-926-3136 or the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at 717-772-2852.

Special presentation

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID concerns, the John Kennedy Chapter of Trout Unlimited has resumed its regular monthly meetings and presentations by guest speakers.

The next chapter meeting will be on Tuesday, May 3, at 7 p.m. at the Allegheny Township Volunteer Fire Department located at 651 Sugar Run Road, Altoona. Creg Strock, owner of Aquatic Imitations fishing tackle store in Hollidaysburg, will present a fly-tying demonstration featuring both new and old favorite fly patterns.

As a commercial fly tier, he produces about 8,000 flies a year, which provides him with the opportunity to try many new materials, techniques and fly patterns. The public is welcome to attend this free program.

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