State Digest

June 14, 2007

Deer test negative for fatal affliction

For the fifth consecutive year, Maryland's wild deer population has tested negative for a fatal affliction similar to mad cow disease, the Department of Natural Resources reported yesterday.

Federal, state and local biologists, and veterinarians took brain stem and lymph gland samples from 969 deer during the 2006-2007 hunting season and found no trace of chronic wasting disease. Tests on 13 deer that appeared sick also turned up negative.

"Most of the samples came from hunter-harvested deer, and we appreciate their cooperation and understanding as we try to keep Maryland CWD-free," said Bob Beyer, DNR associate director for game management. "We look forward to a continued partnership because this is a process that will be in place for many years to come."

The state has been on high alert since 2005, when the disease was detected by West Virginia officials in wild deer just a dozen miles from the Allegany County line. The disease also was found in a captive herd in upstate New York that year. Since the disease was first detected in Colorado in 1967, 13 states and two Canadian provinces have found infected deer, elk or moose.

Pennsylvania announced this month that its tests on deer and elk came back negative.

CWD attacks animals' brains and spinal cords and is believed to be caused by modified proteins called prions. The disease is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy similar to mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which attacks humans. There has been no evidence that CWD can infect people.

When the animals become infected, they stagger, slobber and show little fear of humans. They gradually lose the ability to care for themselves.

Wildlife managers in the Rocky Mountain states and the Midwest have been forced to destroy thousands of deer and elk in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.

To keep Maryland's estimated herd of 265,000 deer safe, state wildlife managers have developed a response plan that includes isolating the suspected target area and thinning the herd. In addition, officials also have taken steps to eliminate captive deer herds -- penned, domesticated animals considered one of the primary entry points and spreaders of CWD.

Beyer said the state is down to 15 permit holders who own a total of 200 deer, and it is working to further reduce the number.

During this fall's muzzleloader and modern firearms seasons, the state will collect 850 tissue samples from all 23 Maryland counties, Beyer said.

Candus Thomson

Montgomery Co.

Board OKs sex-ed expansion

The Montgomery County Board of Education has approved a new sex-education curriculum that includes information on homosexuality, gender identity and the correct use of a condom.

Tuesday's 6-1 vote expands a pilot program to all middle and high schools in the county.

Under the previous curriculum, health teachers could discuss sexual orientation only in response to students' questions. Two lessons, totaling 90 minutes, will be added to health courses in the eighth and 10th grades in the fall, along with a 10th-grade lesson and an instructional DVD on the correct use of a condom.

"I know that these issues are not without emotion," Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said during Tuesday's televised meeting. "But I do think this is the right thing to do. And I also think it needs to be done in the right way."

A last-minute addition by Weast to the lessons sparked criticism and cost him the support of one board member, Stephen N. Abrams. The change instructs teachers that if asked whether homosexuality is an illness, they should say that the American Psychiatric Association does not include it in its list of disorders.

"What changed from the time I was briefed on the issue?" Abrams said. "There is no new science."

Other board members had pushed for the revision, as had a citizens advisory committee that worked with Weast's staff to develop the lessons.

In March, six middle and high schools field-tested the lessons, which took five years to develop.

A first attempt at revising the lessons prompted a lawsuit, and U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. issued a restraining order in spring 2005. He faulted teacher materials that criticized religious fundamentalism.

A few dozen protesters gathered outside school board headquarters Tuesday morning. The critics argue that the new lessons favor the view that homosexuality is socially and morally acceptable.

Douglas Streeks, 18, a graduating senior from Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, was among the protesters.

"I think their agenda is to get students to accept this stuff as normal, and it's not," he said.

Opponents have appealed to the Maryland State Board of Education, which is expected to rule this summer.

Associated Press

Washington Co.

Woman guilty of embezzling

A West Virginia woman has pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $800,000 from the Washington County nonprofit agency where she worked.

Kelley Macher, 45, of Inwood pleaded guilty Tuesday in Hagerstown to one count of theft scheme over $500. Several other charges were dropped. Sentencing has not yet been set.

Macher worked for more than six years at Potomac Case Management Services, a social services agency that assists people with mental illnesses, senior citizens and families.

Associated Press

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