- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) With bow season for Maryland deer now open, state and federal wildlife managers are stepping up their monitoring for chronic wasting disease, which attacks the animals' brains and kills them.
There is no evidence the disease, which has shown up in 10 other states, has infected Maryland deer, said Paul Peditto, director of the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service.
"There's no reason to panic," he said. "If this thing comes to Maryland, we'll deal with it quickly. What we absolutely don't want is for people who read about the disease or hear we've had a positive test to stop hunting. That would be the inappropriate response."
State wildlife officials announced plans last week to increase their monitoring and testing of Maryland's deer population, which is estimated at 225,000. They also will step up hunter education efforts.
Scientists have found no evidence that chronic wasting disease, or CWD, can spread to humans or livestock, but they don't know how it spreads or if it can mutate and infect other species.
The disease is caused by a mutant protein that riddles the brains of deer and elk with microscopic lesions. It is in the same family as "mad cow" disease, scrapie, which affects sheep; and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which attacks humans.
Infected animals stagger, slobber and show little fear of humans. They eventually die.
The spread of the disease has prompted wildlife officials in other states to take aggressive measures this year. In Wisconsin, 25,000 deer are being killed in a 360-square-mile area where 18 infected deer where found. Nebraska is negotiating with 25 elk ranchers to buy and kill their confined herds. Colorado is building two incinerators to dispose of diseased carcasses.
Maryland has periodically tested deer since 1999. The last sampling, which involved six animals, occurred after a managed hunt last January.
The increase in reported cases elsewhere has prompted state officials to expand the program in time for the start of the modern firearms season in November, Mr. Peditto said. Biologists will be at deer-check stations in Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Allegany and Washington counties to take brain-stem tissue samples from 300 animals.
Maryland's bow-and-arrow deer season opened Saturday.
Federal authorities are checking for CWD in 15 deer killed last month in three National Park Service jurisdictions in Western Maryland Catoctin Mountain Park, Antietam National Battlefield and Monocacy National Battlefield.
The agency contracted to have the deer killed as part of the process for developing a deer management plan for the parks, Antietam Superintendent John Howard said.
State officials are urging hunters to avoid taking deer that appear sick. During field dressing, they should wear gloves and discard the spine and brain.
Hunters are asked to report unhealthy deer to the Department of Natural Resources at 1/877/620-8367, Ext. 8540.
"It's on everyone's radar screens," said Steve Huettner, president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association. "When there are more questions than answers, that's when people get worried."

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