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Deer hunt includes expanded efforts against wasting disease

Posted November 25

— Maryland's firearm deer season opens Saturday amid expanded efforts by state wildlife regulators to curb the spread of chronic wasting disease, a transmissible neurological condition fatal to deer, elk and moose. Humans are not susceptible.

The Department of Natural Resources has tripled the size of its disease-management area to include all of Allegany County plus western Washington County. The area previously covered only eastern Allegany.

Hunters cannot legally transport whole deer carcasses outside of the management area except to bring them to approved meat processors, taxidermists or lined landfills in either county. Hunters may take deer meat, antlers and hides from the management zone but must leave spinal columns, backbones, heads, and any tissue attached to antlers or skull plates.

The department says 11 infected deer have been found in Maryland since 2010, mostly near the southern Green Ridge State Forest, across the Potomac River from West Virginia, where the disease dates to 2005. The disease was first identified in Colorado in 1967 and is now in at least 23 states, including Maryland neighbors Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The zone expansion moves the management area closer to the Antietam and Monocacy national Civil War battlefields, where a prohibition on hunting has produced deer herds more than 10 times as dense as the 15-to-20 per square mile that the National Park Service considers sustainable. The agency recently announced plans to use government sharpshooters to reduce deer herds at the parks, starting this December.

The herd-reduction plan, approved in 2014, says the park service would consider accelerating the multiyear program, in coordination with the state, if chronic wasting disease is detected within five miles of a battlefield. But Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Services Director Paul Peditto said Friday that large-scale deer slaughters, like those carried out in some states, have not stopped the disease from spreading.

"As more time passes, it becomes more obvious that the right decision is not to try to scorch the earth," Peditto said.

The nearest infected deer to either battlefield was found in Adams County, Pennsylvania, at least 25 miles from Monocacy and 30 miles from Antietam.

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