Lyme disease or CWD?

It’s an interesting question: Should we protect people from ticks at the expense of exposing deer to chronic wasting disease, or avoid using a potential tick-control measure to protect deer from CWD?

In a roundabout way, that’s the question that was posed to the Pennsylvania Game Commission board recently.

According to a recent article in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, two groups from southeastern Pennsylvania with a vested stake in the Lyme disease battle spoke in support of allowing baiting for deer in the form of tick

Here’s how they work: A feeder with upright rollers saturated with tick treatment is filled with corn. When a deer attempts to consume the corn, it squeezes its head between the rollers and the tick treatment is applied as the animal feeds.

Why deer? Because they’re one of the primary carriers of the deer tick, which can transmit the Lyme disease bacteria.

Representatives from the Lyme Disease Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Brandywine Conservancy both spoke in favor of the baited tick stations, which are currently in use on the conservancy

But they can’t be used year round, due to a prohibition on baiting during deer hunting season. Both groups would like to see that change.

Pennsylvania is a hotspot for Lyme disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 96 percent of all Lyme disease cases in 2011 occurred in 13 states, and Pennsylvania was not only one of them, but it topped the list with 4,739 confirmed cases.

Based on the few studies available, tick stations appear to work in states such as Maryland and Texas.

Currently, in Pennsylvania, tick stations can be used during the spring and summer months when tick activity is highest, but when the fall hunting seasons begin, they must be taken down. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a big deal since tick activity drops when the weather turns cold during hunting season.

Still, just about anyone who has shot a deer during the fall archery season or even the winter rifle season can attest to seeing ticks on the deer they harvested.

Baiting isn’t legal during hunting season mainly for ethical reasons. It provides an unfair advantage and goes against the concept of fair chase. But should it, and tick stations, be allowed in the southeast where deer numbers are excessively high in some areas?

Should ethics and fair chase mean less in those areas with high deer populations?

Those are tough questions, but the issue gets more complicated when one considers the presence of chronic wasting disease, which was discovered in Pennsylvania last year.

The disease is spread through deer-to-deer contact or an animal coming in contact with an area touched by an infected deer. In those parts of the state where chronic wasting disease has been found, feeding deer has been prohibited as part of an executive order issued by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Feeding congregates deer, which increases the risk of transmitting CWD.

Feeding and baiting are essentially the same as they both congregate deer. And that adds to the complexity of the Lyme disease issue in Pennsylvania. We may have a legitimate control method in the tick stations, but the use of such apparatus requires baiting.

Baiting during hunting season goes against ethics and fair chase and it also congregates deer, which increases the risk of CWD. Do we protect people from ticks or deer from CWD?

I think we can do both.

Tick stations can be used when the insect’s activity is highest — spring and summer. Several months of consistent application could be enough to significantly reduce the number of ticks on deer.

But what about CWD? That’s where the risk comes in. As long as the tick stations are proven effective, go ahead and use them in those areas where the disease hasn’t been detected. If CWD does surface in those areas, baited tick stations should be prohibited along with feeding.

It’s a risk, but it’s one worth taking if it reduces the threat of Lyme disease without increasing the risk of CWD.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Tom Venesky

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