• Visitors bask in a golden sunset at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in Shenandoah National Park

    Shenandoah

    National Park Virginia

Shenandoah National Park Completes CWD Detection and Assessment Plan

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Date: December 5, 2013

Shenandoah National Park staff recently concluded a planning process for a Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Detection and Assessment Plan after receiving a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) decision. The purpose of the CWD plan in Shenandoah National Park is to establish a framework that allows the National Park Service (NPS) to determine with a high level of confidence whether CWD is present in the park's deer population; to understand the prevalence and distribution of CWD if it is detected in the park; to support future decision-making relative to long-term management of CWD in the park's deer population; and to cooperate/coordinate to a greater degree with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF)in its surveillance efforts.

The Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the selected alternative/plan provides park managers with four options for the detection and/or assessment of CWD within the park. The proximity of CWD to the park and the relative risk of infection will determine the options employed by park managers. Options include opportunistic sampling (mostly testing road-killed deer), targeted surveillance (looking for and sampling sick/emaciated deer), enhanced live-testing (live-sampling healthy appearing), and a lethal removal sampling option that may be necessary to achieve sample size requirements. A key provision allows the park to partner with the VDGIF in the surrounding areas to use off-park deer samples from harvested animals and pool these with on-park samples to calculate the total samples required for a statistically-sound estimate to address the threat of CWD.

Sampling will occur in areas of the park within 30 miles of a known CWD case. If needed to achieve a statistically valid sample size for the detection or assessment of CWD, the park may lethally sample up to 150 deer over a three year period for detection or approximately 70 over a two year period to determine prevalence and distribution. The park will only lethally remove deer for sample after exhausting all other non-lethal sampling methods (e.g., enhanced opportunistic (mostly road-kill), enhanced live-testing, and hunter-harvest/road-kill testing by the VDGIF within the surveillance area).The park will primarily sample and remove deer near the closest developed areas (e.g. Dickey Ridge, Mathews Arm, Skyland, and Big Meadows).Deer will be sampled from developed areas because these areas have higher deer densities and are, therefore, at greater risk of CWD introduction and spread.Lethal removal sampling would occur during periods of low visitation. All removal work would be contingent on funding and staff availability. To the greatest extent possible, all deer testing negative for CWD will be donated to local food banks in the counties surrounding the park.

CWD is a self-propagating, neurological and fatal disease of deer, elk, and moose. CWD is considered a non-native disease to this area, and therefore, Shenandoah National Park is mandated to monitor and limit the impacts of the disease if prudent and feasible. The impacts of CWD on population dynamics of deer are presently poorly understood. Modeling/research suggests that CWD could substantially harm infected deer populations by lowering adult survival rates and destabilizing long-term populations.Given the NPS mandate to manage park resources "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations," the park is very concerned with potential impacts to its deer population and other park resources especially as CWD is now located less than 21 miles from the park's northern boundary. A CWD Detection and Assessment Plan is needed because the park's proximity to known positive CWD cases represents a significant risk factor for non-native disease introduction. 

In the region surrounding the West Virginia/Virginia border near Gore, Virginia, CWD has become established and has spread in recent years. As of June 2013, 133 deer tested positive for CWD in Hampshire and Hardy Counties, West Virginia, and five deer tested positive in Frederick County, Virginia. As of July 2013, the closest CWD cluster (5 cases) is within 21 miles of the park.

Did You Know?

Shenandoah National Park’s scenic highway, Skyline Drive, winds through a tunnel of trees in all their fall color glory.

Skyline Drive, the only public road through Shenandoah National Park, rides the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles through the park, then joins the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC.