Lyme worries trump CWD

Harrisburg — It may sound overly simplistic, but Pennsylvania game commissioners must chose which is the more ominous threat in the southeast corner of the state – Lyme disease or chronic wasting disease.

If the commissioners, as expected, vote this fall or winter to again allow deer baiting in the Southeast Special Regulations Area, they will signal that concerns about Lyme disease outweigh worries about the spread of chronic wasting disease.

The proposal to allow the use of corn or supplement pellets to lure deer into bow and arrow range would also include a prohibition on deer feeding in the area, which may prove to be controversial among some residents.

In the densely urban southeast corner of the state, the two diseases – the epidemic of tickborne Lyme that is making thousands of Pennsylvanians sick and chronic wasting disease, which threatens to decimate the deer herd – have become inextricably linked.

Especially since municipalities and citizens groups have installed tick-killing machines around the area that use corn to entice deer to stick their heads between rollers that apply a pesticide to their necks.

That approach has already been credited by some with lowering tick numbers and limiting the incidence of Lyme disease.

The proposed baiting regulation would allow those machines to be stocked with corn and kill ticks year-round. Presently, operators are required to remove corn during hunting seasons’ fall and winter, greatly limiting the tick-killing effort’s effectiveness.

Game Commissioner Brian Hoover, the Glenolden borough manager who represents the southeast region of the state on the board, is pushing the baiting regulation. He believes the Lyme disease epidemic has convinced other commissioners to allow baiting in the southeast.

“There are commissioners who don’t like baiting anywhere, but I think they know this is necessary,” he said. “Look, we know that killing deer in the southeast special regulations area is not hunting, it’s culling – but it needs to be done. There are way too many deer there.”

Hoover noted that commissioners considered the risks of spreading CWD by congregating deer when baiting, but they concluded the benefits of reducing deer numbers make allowing baiting worthwhile.

“We did discuss CWD in the context of doing this, and we decided that we don’t want to overreact to CWD,” he said.

“We’re going to be having to deal with CWD for years and years. It is here but that doesn’t mean that we should not try to reduce our urban deer problems.

“And since that relates to ticks and Lyme disease as well as damage from too many deer overbrowsing and damaging landscapes, we need to do what we can now.”

The ban on deer feeding included in the proposed regulation is significant, Hoover noted.

“In the special regulations area, typically the homeowner who has a problem with deer overbrowsing only owns a quarter of an acre piece of ground or a 5,500-foot lot, and we need to get four or five of them together to try to get permission to do any kind of a deer cull to reduce the population in that area,” he said.

“The deer are just not going to come to you because you’re there, you have to give them a reason, and that is where baiting comes in.”

Residents feeding deer only competes with efforts by hunters to reduce deer numbers.

The proposed baiting regulation may not be approved until the winter meeting for fall 2014, according to Hoover, to avoid hunter confusion about baiting being allowed this fall. If not, however, he said commission law enforcement may allow the tick-killing stations to be stocked with corn through the fall and winter anyway.

Baiting deer had been allowed in the Southeast Special Regulations Area for three years when the commission launched its urban deer management plan in 2006. However commissioners allowed the baiting provision to sunset, or expire, several years ago after the agency’s biologists convinced them baiting did not help kill more deer in urban locales.

They said baiting resulted in deer feeding nocturnally, visiting bait piles after dark when archers could not shoot them.

The proposed regulation would require hunters to obtain permits to bait deer under strictly controlled circumstances:

  • Baiting only during normal open deer seasons in the Southeast Special Regulations Area.
  • Approved bait may be distributed at each bait site by approved feeders from four weeks prior to the opening of the first deer season through the close of the last deer season.
  • Approved feeders are limited to sealed, waterproof, automatic, mechanical feeders that are set to distribute bait up to a maximum of three times per day, during legal hunting hours only. 
  • The feeder must be tagged or labeled with the permittee’s customer identification number or their name and address.
  • Bait accumulation at any one bait site shall not exceed 5 gallons total volume at any given time.
  • Approved bait shall be limited to shelled corn and protein pellet supplements.
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