Deer-baiting change to fight Lyme, ticks

Harrisburg — Baiting is not just a more effective way to kill deer in urban situations. It’s a way to make them healthier, too.

That’s what members of two groups told Pennsylvania Game commissioners recently.

Doug Fearn, chairman of the Lyme Disease Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and John Goodall, western region manager for the Brandywine Conservancy, talked to the board about Lyme disease. Pennsyl­vania is ground zero for the disease these days, they said, with southeastern Pennsylvania the hottest of hot spots.

Lyme was discovered in Lyme, Conn., but these days more people contract it in the Keystone State than anywhere else. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 20,000 to 35,000 cases of Lyme reported annually.

In 2011, 96 percent of those cases were confined to 13 states. Pennsylvania was not only one of them, it had the most cases confirmed with 4,739.

Chester County had the most. There were 759 cases reported, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Bucks County had the second-highest number of cases with 586, followed by Montgomery with 415.

It’s likely that the actual number of Lyme cases is much higher, though, Fearn said, because rigorous standards for confirmation make it likely some get misdiagnosed or reported.

“Most people aren’t aware of how dangerous this disease can be,” he said.

Lyme is an inflammatory disease that most typically causes a bull’s-eye rash that’s followed by fevers, chills, headaches, muscle aches and joint pain. Ticks transfer it to hosts – people, pets, deer and other animals – by latching onto the skin and transferring fluids.

It’s almost always curable if detected and treated with oral antibiotics, said Phillip Baker, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

The state Department of Health cautions people, though, that prevention is the key to avoiding the disease. That means using insect repellents with DEET when you go outside, wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts and doing full-body tick checks when you return home.

But tick stations that treat deer for ticks can really help, too, Goodall said.

The areas where deer and people mix are where tick problems manifest themselves, Goodall said.

“When people are walking our trails, when they’re walking our fields, when they’re in areas where animals are bedding down, that’s where we’re seeing problems,” he said.

The Brandywine Conservancy has been trying to combat that by using nearly four dozen tick stations on its Laurels Preserve and the surrounding property known as the old King Ranch. They’re essentially feeders with what look like upright paint rollers attached.

As deer go for the food, they have to squeeze their heads between the rollers; the rollers apply a tick treatment as that’s happening.

“What we’re trying to do is break the cycle, cut back on the number of ticks and cut back on the number of people contracting tick-borne illnesses,” Goodall said.

Studies done on the effectiveness of the tick stations in places like Maryland and Texas have found that the number of ticks has declined by between 92 and 98 percent, he added.

Commissioner Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County, said he was sympathetic to anyone with Lyme, given that both he and his wife have been treated for it in the past, he said. But he noted that the studies on tick stations have all been conducted on captive deer herds.

“Does it work outside a fence, in a wild herd situation?” he asked.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the answer is yes, Goodall said. It appears the tick stations are helping control ticks on conservancy properties, at a cost of about $2,000 annually, Goodall said.

A “tick drag” to put specifics to that belief may be conducted at some point with the help of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In the meantime, though, the problem the conservancy is facing is that it has to take down its feeding stations at the onset of deer-hunting seasons because of the Game Commission’s decision a few years ago to ban baiting in southeastern Pennsylvania, he said. The conservancy and Lyme Disease Association would like to see those rules changed, he said.

Commissioner Brian Hoover,  of Delaware County, said he’s interested in seeing that, too.

“We need to come up with a solution that allows these things to be used year-round without jeopardizing the role of hunters who are out there trying to do another job,” Hoover said.

He had hoped to introduce regulations that would make all of that possible at the board’s June meeting, he said. There was not enough time to make that happen prior to this fall’s hunting seasons, he noted.

But he promised that he’ll look for solutions as quickly as possible.

“We are working on that, I assure you,” he said.

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