Commission urging ag to make CWD changes

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania Game Commission staff came as close to publicly criticizing a fellow state agency as might ever be seen Dec. 17, when they were filling in game commissioners on chronic wasting disease and deer farms at a commissioner working group meeting.

CWD is the always fatal brain disease of deer and other cervids like elk that was first confirmed in Pennsylvania in October in a captive herd of deer in Adams County.

The commission is part of the state’s CWD emergency response team because of its responsibility for wild deer. Another principal part of that team is the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which has responsibility for deer farms.

It was ag’s oversight of deer farms causing concern for the commission.

When Commissioner David Schreffler asked how many potentially CWD-infected deer escape from farms in the state, Calvin DuBrock, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, replied,

“The best answer I can give you is numerous.

“It’s not uncommon to have tagged deer reported to us” when they are spotted outside their fences.

He said because escapes are such a common occurrence, the commission has changed its communication strategy to ask ag for immediate alerts on the incidents.

In addition, he noted, the commission’s wildlife conservation officers have been instructed to kill any ear-tagged deer whenever they encounter them running free, as long as they can do that safely.

“We’ve missed the opportunity to sample [escaped captive deer for CWD] too often by being generous with the owners,” he explained.

Noting that federal standards for deer farms that the ag department follows require the farms to do an inventory of their deer every three years, DuBrock said.  The commission also has asked the ag department to move to requiring annual inventories and complete ear-tagging on all captive deer.

Commission Executive Director Carl Roe added, “Of concern to me are the non-compliers not in the program.”

One of two escaped deer connected to the CWD farm in Adams County escaped from an enclosure in Huntingdon County that was not registered with the ag department.

In addition, at a public meeting on CWD in October in York a still-unidentified man announced that his captive herd of deer is not registered with the ag department.

Roe also told commissioners that the agency has paid to have a fence put back into place around a former York County deer enclosure associated with the CWD farm in Adams County. The owner had removed the fence before CWD was confirmed anywhere in Pennsylvania, which allowed wild deer to roam over the site.

If the commission had waited for the owner or ag to erect the fence, DuBrock suggested, “We would have waited a long, long time… putting free-roaming deer at risk.”

Ag was asked about the commission’s criticism, but did not respond by deadline for this issue.

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