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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects the brain and nervous system of infected cervids (deer, elk and moose) eventually resulting in death. CWD-infected deer, on average, do not display clinical symptoms of disease for 18 to 24 months.   

 CWD Response Plan

CWD DMAP Units

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is offering Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permits for eight Enhanced Surveillance Units. The permits, which allow hunters to take antlerless deer in the 2020-21 hunting seasons, went on sale on July 30.

The purpose is for hunters to use the DMAP permits to harvest deer, and then submit the heads from those animals for CWD testing. It is important for hunters to submit heads in these units to assess the extent of the disease in these areas. The units are located around new CWD detections at the leading edge of disease expansion or in new areas far from other CWD detections.

Permits are available in the following CWD DMAP Units:

DMAP Unit #3468. Berks, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties.
DMAP Unit #3934. Clearfield County.
DMAP Unit #4311. Cambria County.
DMAP Unit #4312. Jefferson County.
DMAP Unit #4313. Westmoreland County.
DMAP Unit #4314. Adams and Franklin Counties.
DMAP Unit #4315. Juniata, Mifflin, and Snyder Counties.
DMAP Unit #4316. Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clearfield, and Huntingdon Counties.

DMAP tags for the Enhanced Surveillance Units can be purchased at any license issuing agent or online at The Outdoor Shop. Hunters just need to identify the unit they want to hunt by number.

FIND PARTICIPATING LANDOWNER PROPERTIES

CWD DMAP Unit Location Interactive MapsPDF Maps

Where Can I Take My Deer? Interactive map. or Printable list (PDF) – Locations of head bins and cooperating processors and taxidermists. This list may be updated, please check back.

Pennsylvania, like more than half of the other states in the country, is facing the challenge of slowing the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wild deer. In this National Deer Alliance video, you will hear from CWD experts and sportsmen from Wisconsin who have seen and continue to face the issues caused by the disease since it was first detected in the Badger State in 2002. They talk about the challenges of managing CWD in the face of political opposition and a largely disengaged hunting community, and provide suggestions and encouragement to Pennsylvanians as wildlife professionals and hunters in the Commonwealth begin to tread similar waters.

CWD in Pennsylvania

Current Status:

Following the detection of CWD in both captive and free-ranging deer in Pennsylvania, an executive order (PDF) was issued by the Game Commission to establish Disease Management Areas (DMAs). Within DMAs, rehabilitation of cervids (deer, elk and moose); the use or possession of cervid urine-based attractants in an outdoor setting; the removal of high-risk cervid parts; and the feeding of wild, free-ranging cervids are prohibited. Increased testing continues in these areas to determine the distribution of the disease. Newly confirmed cases alter the boundaries of DMAs as the Game Commission continues to manage the disease and minimize its effect on free ranging cervids.

As a result of discovering CWD in both captive and free-ranging deer, the Pennsylvania Game Commission expanded DMAs 2, 3 and 4 for 2020. Of course, CWD has been detected in wild or captive deer and/or elk in many other states and provinces. So for the most up-to-date maps and descriptions of DMA boundaries, visit the interactive map.

DMA 1 was established after CWD was discovered on a captive deer farm in Adams County in 2012 (DMA 1 has since been eliminated).

DMA 2 was established in 2012 and now covers approximately 7,470 square miles, an expansion of 755 square miles over last year. For 2020 biologists expanded it west into Westmoreland County as the result of a CWD-positive adult female roadkill deer, northwest into Cambria and Indiana counties as the result of CWD-positive captive deer facilities and north into Centre County and Mifflin, Union, and Snyder counties as the result of two CWD-positive adult male roadkill deer. DMA 2 currently includes all or parts of Indiana, Cambria, Clearfield, Centre, Union, Snyder, Blair, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Somerset, Bedford, Fulton, Franklin, and Adams counties.

DMA 3 was established in 2014 and now covers approximately 1,233 square miles, an expansion of 114 square miles over last year. For 2020 biologists expanded it southwest into Jefferson, Indiana, and Armstrong counties because of a CWD-positive yearling male roadkill deer. DMA 3 now covers portions of Jefferson, Clearfield, Indiana, Armstrong, and Clarion counties.

DMA 4 was established in 2018 and now covers approximately 746 square miles, an increase of 397 square miles over last year. For 2020 biologists expanded it further south into Lancaster County after detection of a captive deer with CWD. It now covers portions of Berks, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties.

Frequently Asked Questions:

For Hunters

How can hunters help?
You can help the Game Commission monitor and limit the impact of CWD. The threat of CWD is real. Your participation in testing efforts and in properly addressing high-risk parts is critical to manage this serious disease. Taking actions today may help protect deer and deer hunting into the future.

If you are hunting within a DMA, before you leave the DMA, deposit high-risk parts from your deer in a high-risk parts disposal dumpster, marked with “D” or “HD” on the Interactive map. High-risk parts include the head, lymph nodes, spleen, and spinal column. You may also dispose of any other deer parts not used in these dumpsters.

How do I have my deer tested for CWD?
FREE testing of deer taken in any DMA: If you harvest a deer in a Disease Management Area (DMA), please deposit the deer’s head, with your completed harvest tag affixed to the deer’s ear, at one of the head collection containers (marked as “H” or “HD” on the Interactive map). You will be notified of the test results. We are estimating that hunters should receive test results 10-21 days after submitting their head. Hunters can submit deer harvested out a DMA to the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostics Laboratory Systems (PDF) for testing.

How do I have my deer tested and keep the antlers?
Hunters who wish to keep the antlers of their buck can do so by capping the skull to remove the antlers and removing all visible brain material from the underside of the skull cap. The antlers and skull cap can then lawfully leave the DMA. Hunters can then double-bag the remaining parts of the head, with harvest tag attached, and place it in a head collection container provided by the Game Commission, within the DMA to be tested.

How do I have my deer tested and mounted by a taxidermist?

  1. Harvested deer can be taken to any taxidermists within the DMA where the deer was harvested or a cooperating taxidermist for that DMA. Finished taxidermy mounts may leave the DMA. Hunters can have their deer tested by double-bagging the remaining parts of the head, with harvest tag attached, and placing it in a head collection container provided by the Game Commission, within that DMA.
  2. Hunters may transport cleaned capes and cleaned skull caps with antlers outside of the DMA to the taxidermist of their choice. Hunters may cap and cape their harvest themselves or take it to a processor/taxidermist within the DMA. Hunters can have their deer tested by double-bagging the remaining parts of the head, with harvest tag attached, and placing it in a head collection container provided by the Game Commission, within that DMA.
 

For Taxidermists & Processors

If you are presented with a deer or elk harvested in CWD-infected areas, please contact the nearest Game Commission region office for guidance. Additional information is available for processors (PDF) and taxidermists (PDF).

CWD in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania CWD Response Plan (PDF) current plan

Proposed Response Plan; comment until 2/29/20


Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious, always-fatal disease that infects deer and elk in Pennsylvania. It is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Other diseases in the TSE family include Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease in cattle; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans; and Scrapie in sheep and goats. It was first recognized in deer and elk in Colorado in 1967. The cause of CWD is believed to be an abnormal prion (proteinaceous infectious particle). Prions are concentrated in the brain, nervous system, and lymphoid tissues of infected animals. The disease causes death of brain cells resulting in microscopic holes in the brain tissue. CWD-infected deer, on average, do not display clinical symptoms of disease for 18 to 24 months.

What animals get CWD?

Is CWD dangerous to humans?
There is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans or traditional livestock. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to some types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected deer or elk. These studies raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people. Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.”

Where has CWD been found in Pennsylvania?
 In Pennsylvania, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been detected in several parts of the state. It was first detected in a captive facility in Disease Management Area (DMA) 1 in Adams County in 2012. DMA 1 has since been eliminated. CWD remains in Disease Management Areas 2, 3 and 4. DMA 2 covers all or portions of Indiana, Cambria, Clearfield, Centre, Union, Snyder, Blair, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Somerset, Bedford, Fulton, Franklin, and Adams counties. DMA 3 covers portions of Jefferson, Clearfield, Indiana,Armstrong, and Clarion counties. And DMA 4 covers portions of Berks, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties.

In addition, CWD has been detected in wild or captive deer and/or elk in many other states and provinces. A listing of states and provinces where CWD has been identified. A map of Pennsylvania DMAs can be found on the CWD page of the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.pa.gov).

How is CWD spread?
CWD is transmitted both directly through animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through food and soil contaminated with bodily secretions including feces, urine, and saliva. Contaminated carcasses or high-risk carcass parts may also spread the disease indirectly through environmental contamination. Prions are very stable in the environment and remain infectious for decades.

Why should I stop feeding deer?
Feeding cervids within any Disease Management Area is unlawful. Because any concentration of deer or elk assists in the spread of diseases, immediately stop supplemental feeding programs. For more information, read Please Don't Feed the Deer (PDF).

What is being done to manage CWD in Pennsylvania?
Several state and federal agencies, including the Game Commission, Pennsylvania departments of Agriculture (PDA), Health (PDH), and Environmental Protection (DEP), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) collaboratively work on a response plan, which details methods of prevention, surveillance, and response regarding CWD. Activities designed to reduce the risks associated with this disease are ongoing. Surveillance for CWD and other diseases began in Pennsylvania in 1998 and will continue to better understand the prevalence and distribution of the disease.

How can I tell if a deer or elk has CWD?
Animals infected with CWD do not show signs of infection for 12 or more months; many infected animals look completely healthy. Late stage symptoms of CWD-infected animals include an extreme loss of body condition; excessive drinking, urination, salivation, and drooling; and behavioral and neurologic changes such as repetitive walking patterns, droopy ears, a wide-based stance, and listlessness. Some animals lose their fear of humans and predators. There is no known cure. It is important to note that these symptoms are characteristic of diseases other than CWD.

What should I do if I see a deer or elk displaying signs that suggest CWD?
If you see a deer or elk that you believe is sick, do not disturb or attempt to kill or remove the animal. Accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact the nearest Game Commission region office.

What are high-risk carcass parts?
High-risk parts include: the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and any lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.

CWD high-risk carcass part

Why are there restrictions on the movement of high-risk parts?
Regulations prohibit the removal or export from any Disease Management Area (DMA) established within the Commonwealth any high-risk parts or materials resulting from cervids harvested, taken, or killed, including by vehicular accident, within any Disease Management Area. Regulations also prohibit the importation of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed in other areas where CWD has been detected.  Although CWD has been detected in both captive and free ranging deer, the Game Commission's goal continues to be to prevent further introductions of CWD into our state and to prevent spread within the state. The movement of high-risk carcass parts is a potential avenue through which CWD could be spread. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have developed regulations to prohibit the importation of high-risk carcass parts from states and provinces with CWD infected deer.

From where is the importation of high-risk parts prohibited? (Last update Sept. 2019)
The parts ban affects hunters who harvest deer, elk, moose, mule deer and other cervids in: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming; as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.

What carcass parts are safe to move?
The following cervid parts may be safely transported into and within Pennsylvania: meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached; cleaned hides without the head; skull plates and/or antlers cleaned of all brain tissue; upper canine teeth without soft tissue; or finished taxidermy mounts. These parts may be moved out of Pennsylvania's Disease Management Areas.

What precautions should hunters take?
Hunters should only harvest animals that appear healthy, and take reasonable precautions like wearing gloves while field dressing an animal and washing hands and equipment thoroughly when finished.  Hunters in areas where CWD is known to exist should follow these guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease:

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear rubber or nitrile gloves when field dressing.
  • Bone-out the meat to remove high-risk parts such as brain, spinal cord, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes.
  • Avoid cutting into or through the backbone, either lengthwise or across the spine.
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
  • Thoroughly clean hands and processing tools with soap and water; then sanitize tools in a solution of 50 percent household chlorine bleach and 50 percent water for one hour.
  • Ask your deer processor to process your meat individually or process your own meat.
  • Have your animal processed in the area of the state where it was harvested so high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of. It is illegal to take high-risk parts out of any Pennsylvania Disease Management Area.
  • Do not import high-risk parts from areas where CWD is known to exist.
  • Transport out of any Pennsylvania Disease Management Area, or bring back to Pennsylvania only permitted parts: meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached; cleaned hides without the head; skull plates and/or antlers cleaned of all brain tissue; upper canine teeth without soft tissue; or finished taxidermy mounts. If you plan to hunt in CWD-positive areas, and want to avoid transporting parts that are banned, take a moment to view this video.
  • Don't consume high-risk parts. Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, high-risk parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.
  • Have your animal tested, and do not consume meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.

What if I harvest a deer within a Disease Management Area (DMA)?
If you harvest a deer within a DMA, proceed with these options in handling high-risk parts:

  • If your deer was harvested in a DMA, FREE TESTING is available. Deposit the head of your deer into any CWD Collection Container. The harvest tag must be filled out completely, legible, and physically attached to the deer’s ear. The head must be placed in a plastic garbage bag and sealed before being placed in the collection bin. You will be notified of test results. Skulls and antlers will not be returned. 
  • Take your deer to any processor or taxidermist located within the DMA. You may also take your deer to any processor, taxidermist or disposal site that is approved for that DMA. 
  • If you live within the DMA where your deer was harvested, you may take the deer home to process. Double bag the high-risk parts and set them out for a commercial refuse pickup.
  • You may bone out or quarter the deer at the site, leaving the high-risk parts, except the head, in the field. The head must be packed out with the meat but must not leave the DMA from which the animal was harvested. The head should be deposited in a FREE TESTING collection bin, or left in a high-risk parts dumpster, or double bagged and disposed of with commercial refuse within the DMA.

Where can I have my deer tested?

  • If your deer was harvested within a DMA, FREE TESTING is available. Deposit the head of your deer into any CWD Collection Container. The harvest tag must be filled out completely, legible, and physically attached to the deer’s ear. The head must be placed in a plastic garbage bag and sealed before being placed in the collection bin. You will be notified of test results. Skulls and antlers will not be returned.
  • Hunters can submit their harvested deer to the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostics Laboratory Systems (PDF) for testing.

Is the meat of a CWD positive deer safe to eat?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people DO NOT eat meat from animals that test positive for CWD. From the CDC website: “Animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to some types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected deer or elk. These studies raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people. . . If CWD could spread to people, it would most likely be through eating of infected deer and elk…[T]o date, no CWD infections have been reported in people. . . If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.” More information and further recommendations can be found on the Center for Disease Control website.

What if I harvest a deer with evidence of being ear tagged?
Hunters should immediately notify the nearest Game Commission region office if their harvested deer has evidence of being tagged; this could be actual ear tags, torn ears, or holes in the ears. This may indicate an escape from a captive cervid facility.

What if I hunt in Pennsylvania in an area affected by CWD?
Hunters should continue to enjoy deer and elk hunting in Pennsylvania. However, with the discovery of CWD, hunters should become familiar with the restrictions in the regulations and any Executive Order (PDF) for any designated Disease Management Area (DMA) such as prohibitions on feeding and rehabilitation of deer, the use of urine-based lures, and transportation out of any DMA of specific cervid carcass parts. Regulations prohibit the removal or export of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed, including by vehicular accident, within any Disease Management Area (DMA) established within the Commonwealth. Regulations also prohibit the importation of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed within areas where CWD has been detected.

What if I'm hunting outside Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvanians who harvest deer, elk, mule deer or moose out-of-state likely can’t bring them home without first removing the carcass parts with the highest risk of transmitting CWD. As of Sept. 2019, there are 25 states and three Canadian provinces from which high-risk cervid parts cannot be imported into Pennsylvania. Regulations prohibit the importation of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed within areas where CWD has been detected. The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance is also a reliable online resource. Hunters who are successful in those states and provinces from which the importation of high-risk parts into Pennsylvania is banned are allowed to import meat from any deer, elk, moose, mule deer or caribou, so long as the backbone is not present. Successful hunters also are allowed to bring back cleaned skull plates with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present; capes, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present; and finished taxidermy mounts. Hunters who harvest cervids in a state or province where CWD is known to exist also should follow instructions from that state's wildlife agency on how and where to submit the appropriate samples to have their animal tested. If, after returning to Pennsylvania, a hunter is notified that his or her harvest tested positive for CWD, the hunter is encouraged to immediately contact the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which they reside for disposal recommendations and assistance.