Citing COVID-19 protocols, the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service, an arm of the Department of Natural Resources, chose to forego sampling of hunter-harvested deer for chronic wasting disease during the 2020-2021 hunting seasons.
“Due to safety protocols designed to prevent spread of COVID-19, and protect our staff and the public, DNR was unable during 2020-21 to collect the random, hunter-harvest chronic wasting disease samples that are part of the normal disease monitoring protocol,” an agency spokesman said in an email. “We do however continue to take samples from any sick deer that are reported to us by the public, when it is safe to do so. We will resume normal sample collection in the fall deer season provided it is safe to do so.”
This decision leaves the agency with a gap in sampling data and marks the first year such testing has not taken place since the presence of the fatal disease was discovered in 2010. The first West Virginia case was known in 2005 and came from Hampshire County.
All told, about 10,000 Maryland deer have been sampled during that time frame with 80 turning up positive for CWD. During the 2019-2020 seasons, 706 deer were sampled and 28 were positive.
CWD presence is concentrated in the eastern portion of Allegany County and the western portion of Washington County. It has not been confirmed west of Cumberland or east of Washington County.
As part of deer management, WHS divides private lands in the state into Hunting Management Units. The numbers assigned to those units can be seen in the illustration accompanying this column. Public hunting lands, such as state forests and wildlife management areas, are given separate numbers, even though they lie within a unit encompassing private land.
For example, the Billmeyer Wildlife Management Area is HMU 243, but exists within the borders of HMU 233.
Considering that, here are where the 80 deer with CWD have turned up: HMU 231 – 12 deer; HMU 232 – 3; HMU 233 – 27; HMU 242 (Green Ridge State Forest) – 15; HMU 243 (Billmeyer Wildlife Management Area) – 3; HMU 246 (Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area) – 1; HMU 250 – 13; HMU 251 – 4; HMU 252 – 1; HMU 267 (Woodmont Natural Resources Management Area) – 1.
Maryland was not alone in backing off CWD sampling because of the pandemic. Although the West Virginia Hunting & Trapping Regulations informed hunters in Hardy County that any deer taken during the first two days of the buck firearms season must be brought to sampling stations, that plan was scrapped to lessen the chance of COVID-19 spread, according to Rich Rogers, a Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologist in Romney.
Maryland remains unique in the region, however, in continuing to allow the baiting of deer within known areas of chronic wasting disease. Neighboring states have made it illegal to bait, stating that bringing deer into close quarters, where they share food and thus body fluids, causes CWD to spread more rapidly.
A number of years ago, though, Maryland took a different stance.
Believing that so many private-land hunters relied on baiting to harvest deer, the decision was made to allow it to continue, the reasoning being that hunters who had become accustomed to using bait would not be able to harvest deer without it or would quit hunting. Such a scenario would allow the deer population to expand. More deer would mean more opportunity for the disease to spread, the agency stated.
Baiting continues to be illegal on public lands such as state forests and wildlife management areas.
Mike Sawyers retired in 2018 as Cumberland Times-News outdoor editor. His column now appears every other Saturday. To order his book, “Native Queen, a celebration of the hunting and fishing life,” send him a check for $15 to 16415 Lakewood Drive, Rawlings, MD 21557.