The National Park Service (NPS) is seeking to amend the approved 2013 Chronic Wasting Disease Detection/Assessment Plan, Shenandoah National Park to include response actions necessary to address chronic wasting disease (CWD) within five miles of or within the park.
Although CWD has not been detected in the park, it has been documented approximately 12 miles from the park’s northern boundary. The spread of the disease into the park appears imminent, and park staff has determined that a plan for managing the disease is needed. CWD is a serious, non-native disease which threatens deer populations, related natural resources, and visitor experiences at Shenandoah National Park. The proposed plan amendment calls for the lethal removal of deer within specific developed areas of Shenandoah National Park to reduce the likelihood of CWD establishment and decrease the disease’s progression within the park.
CWD is in the family of diseases known as the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) or prion diseases. It is a self-propagating neurological disease that affects deer and related species, causing brain lesions that result in progressive weight loss, behavioral changes, and eventually death. If left unmanaged, National Park Service biologists believe CWD could progress rapidly through the park and very significantly impact deer populations inside and outside the park. There is currently no evidence that the disease is transmissible to humans or domestic livestock.
The draft amendment/EA for this project has been prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to provide the following decision-making framework:
- analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives to meet project objectives
- evaluation of potential issues and impacts to natural and cultural resources and values
- identification of mitigation measures to lessen the degree or extent of those impacts
The 2013 CWD disease detection and assessment plan already approves lethal sampling of up to 314 deer for detecting/assessing CWD. This proposed amendment allows park staff to manage the disease by lethally removing deer to reduce deer densities in front country areas of the park. Maintaining deer densities that are similar across the park is the primary way to minimize disease transmission and spread. The proposed action reduces higher densities of deer in key front country areas to match backcountry densities via lethal removal. During targeted density reduction actions, the park may remove up to 150-200 animals. When combined with detection and assessment, the maximum number of deer that would be lethally removed is approximately 500 deer over a five-year period.
Superintendent Jim Northup said, “We regret very much that we have to propose this action, but we must act when the park’s deer population is being threatened by an invasive, non-native disease. We have a legal obligation to try to protect the ecological integrity of the park. Just like with invasive plants and insects, chronic wasting disease is a wildlife disease that does not occur naturally in this part of the country and must be managed to preserve the long-term viability of the deer population within the park. If we decide to proceed with this action, we will conduct our operations in the most sensitive and humane way possible and make every effort to see that the safe deer meat is donated to those in need. Our long term goal is to make sure that visitors to Shenandoah National Park will have the opportunity to view and appreciate beautiful, healthy deer for generations to come.”
The NPS encourages public participation through the NEPA process. The public has the opportunity to comment on the draft plan for a 30-day period ending on December 10, 2014. The draft amended plan/EA is now available for review online athttp://parkplanning.nps.gov.
Public meetings will be held in various locations around the park. The first informational meeting will be held on Monday, November 17, 2014, at the Crozet Public Library, 2020 Library Ave, Crozet, VA. The second meeting will be held on Tuesday, November 18, 2014, at the Warren County Community Center, 538 Villa Avenue, Front Royal, VA. The third meeting will be on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at Elkton Community Center, 20593 Blue and Gold Drive, Elkton, VA. All meetings will begin at 7:00 pm and end at 9:00 pm.