NDA and QDMA Respond to Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Captive Cervid Quarantine Order

September 8, 2020 | by National Deer Alliance

The National Deer Alliance (NDA) and the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) welcomed a recent announcement from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) establishing a CWD Core Captive Management Zone encompassing three Pennsylvania counties. NDA and QDMA are national non-profit conservation organizations with missions to serve as the guardian of wild deer conservation, wild deer habitat and our hunting heritage. One of our primary focus areas is policy that impacts deer and hunting, and one of our top priorities is chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The new PDA quarantine order established the Core Captive Management Zone with the goal to slow the spread of CWD in Pennsylvania. PDA has regulatory authority over the 760 deer breeding farms, hunting preserves and hobby farms in the Commonwealth. The order attempts to control CWD in the area of the state where it is most prevalent while allowing deer farms to stay in business. While NDA and QDMA support some of the provisions found in the new quarantine order, some of the order’s weak regulations allow facilities located within the CWD Core Captive Management Zone to move live, and potentially infected, deer in ways that threaten Pennsylvania’s wild deer herd.

“Through our extensive work and consultation with top experts on CWD across North America, we know that moving deer, dead or alive, can facilitate the spread of the disease,” said Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of NDA and QDMA. Movements between captive deer facilities given the absence of a reliable live animal test, deer and elk relocations led by wildlife agencies, and transport of carcasses by hunters who can't be immediately sure if their deer is infected all pose a risk of spreading CWD. Currently, the best way to slow the spread of CWD is to limit or prohibit the movement and transport of live cervids or potentially infected cervid parts.

The quarantine order for the Core Captive Management Zone does positively address some CWD concerns in Pennsylvania, including some deer movement concerns. First, farms will not be permitted to move high risks deer parts, such as the brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes, backbone, spleen and anything containing visible brain or spinal cord material, out of the zone. An exemption exists for low risk parts such as antlers, clean skull caps, capes and deboned meat. Second, no new premises or business with CWD-susceptible species may be established within the zone, reducing opportunities for new CWD-positive captive herds. Third, deer farms in this zone can continue to offer hunts. Certainly, the removal of captive animals from the landscape is a better alternative than the movement of animals across the landscape.

Still, the order provides for a live deer movement exemption for the Core Captive Management Zone if the captive herd is federally certified under the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) CWD Herd Certification Program. The exemption allows Herd Certified farms to sell deer out of state and within Pennsylvania if certain requirements are met. Specifically, Herd Certified farms who screen their entire herd using live animal rectal lymphoid screening for prion detection with non-detected results will be permitted to sell live deer to other parts of Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, these provisions provide a false sense of security, and there is no margin for error when dealing with CWD. Live-animal tests like rectal lymphoid screening are not widely proven to provide accurate results, especially for animals in early stages of infection. Additionally, captive herds certified under USDA’s CWD Herd Certification Program have sometimes yielded CWD-positive animals after years of certification.

Finally, the order allows deer farms within the CWD Core Captive Management zone to buy, sell and transfer live deer within the zone if the annual rate of CWD positive animals in their herd remains below five percent. “It’s unfathomable that movement of captive deer from known-positive herds is acceptable so long as the infection rate remains below a pre-determined threshold. We oppose the movement of any live deer, and especially those known to be exposed to CWD,“added Pinizzotto.

While NDA and QDMA understand that the recent quarantine order from PDA establishing the CWD Core Captive Management Zone is a step in the right direction for the management of the disease in both captive and wild deer herds, the order leaves much to be desired. Moving deer, captive or wild, dead or alive, only hinders CWD management efforts. NDA and QDMA will always prioritize the protection of wild deer from CWD. PDA’s quarantine order, while helpful in some ways, still misses the mark in several areas with respect to slowing the spread of CWD in Pennsylvania.