PGC ponders more CWD response areas

Harrisburg — State officials have revealed no specific plans about how they are going to deal with the recent outbreak of chronic wasting disease in wild deer.

After announcing the discovery of the always-fatal-for-cervids malady in two hunter-harvested deer in Blair County and one in Bedford County on March 1, the Pennsylvania Game Commission scheduled a press conference for March 4 and then spent the weekend gathering a bit more information about those deer.

By the time of that press conference, neither the commission nor the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture – the two agencies with primary responsibility for CWD response in the state – were ready to share what they will do about the new CWD-confirmed sites.

Calvin DuBrock, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, said the commission is awaiting 1,000-1,500 test results on samples taken from hunter-killed deer in the most recent hunting seasons, although all results for the area around the most recent confirmed cases have been received.

That area of southcentral Pennsylvania was a priority for the commission because of the growing CWD threat in Maryland. Last year a CWD-positive deer was found about 10 miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line, just south of Bedford County.

A complete picture from all samples will enable the commission to map out new disease management areas, like the agency did across about 400 square miles of Adams and York counties when the state’s first case of CWD was confirmed there last October, said DuBrock.

Then the commission will determine the contents of an executive order that will be issued for the new disease management areas, well in advance of next fall’s deer hunting seasons.

Regardless, he said, “we’re going to increase the testing of free-ranging deer in this area,” through samples from road-killed deer, deer killed for crop damage and recovery of deer reported as appearing sick within the area of concern.

Craig Schultz, director of the Bureau of Animal Health in the Department of Agricultural, suggested a similar schedule for planning and action by that department.

“Once we have those results, I think we’ll have a better idea on moving forward,” he said, noting that department will be working with the commission to determine the best course of action.

He explained, “We’ve already started work on determining the GIS coordinates for all [deer farm] facilities” in the newly affected areas.

DuBrock suggested that regulation changes could be made concerning the possession of road-killed deer by the public.

“How these developments affect our overall hunting regulations is still contingent” on all of those factors, and more, as well as discussions within the state’s overall CWD Response Task Force.

“There needs to be a lot more discussion within our agencies, and within the task force,” he said.

“At the extreme end [of the possibilities] is what we did in Adams County this past year,” DuBrock said, “Can we continue to spend $300,000-$500,000 in each disease management area? It was pretty expensive.”

Prior to the confirmed cases in a captive deer herd in Adams County last fall, the commission had been spending $200,000-$250,000 per year on CWD efforts statewide, with a now-depleted federal program paying about $70,000 of the total each year.

Among the few firm commitments to come out of the press conference was the tentative scheduling of a public meeting for March 20 in Blair or Bedford County.

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