PGC mulls deer urine use ban
Harrisburg — It’s far from a done deal, but Pennsylvania game commissioners are considering a ban on the use of deer urine products by hunters.
After hearing a presentation by Game Commission wildlife veterinarian Justin Brown on the role that deer urine use by hunters may play in the spread of chronic wasting disease, Commissioner Dave Putnam asked agency staff to prepare a regulation to ban deer urine use for the commissioners’ Sept. 28-29 meeting in DuBois.
However, Putnam, of Centre County, who is president of the board, asked the staff to meet with bowhunters – who use deer urine products – and representatives of the deer urine “industry” before writing the proposed regulation.
Brown reminded the board that four states – Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Virginia – have already banned deer urine use, along with three Canadian provinces. In Pennsylvania, ironically, the use of deer urine is illegal in the commission’s three disease management areas, where wasting disease is already known to exist, but it’s legal everywhere else.
At least one board member is highly skeptical that a deer urine use ban would be worth the economic strife it would cause.
“So, we’re looking to say that urine-based lures are the cause of chronic wasting disease spread, yet we haven’t proven that at all,” said Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Delaware County.
“We have not seen the prevalence of CWD expand, and we have been using urine-based lures in this country for years and years and years, and millions of bottles of it are sold every year. We have not seen the spread of CWD because of urine- based lures.”
But Brown argued that there is good reason to suspect that the wide application to soil of deer urine carrying prions that cause CWD is spreading the always-fatal-to-deer-elk-and-moose disease around the country.
A ban on using urine might slow or stop the disease’s progression, he suggested.
“We are not saying that the expansion of CWD is because of urine-based lures, however we are saying that they pose a risk for spreading the disease,” Brown explained.
“CWD has shown up in many different states and a variety of locations that are not tied to captive animal facilities. We can argue about this all day long, but in Pennsylvania’s disease management area two, in West Virginia and in a number of other locations, we have not tracked the source of the eruptions. We have not made a tie to captive animal facilities.”
Hoover, who contended CWD is “spread on wheels” as captive deer breeders moved sick animals around the country, was unconvinced by Brown’s caution.
“I get what everybody is saying, but before we step on the toes of big industry, I want to be sure that we, in fact, know that deer urine is the cause of the spread of CWD,” he said.
“We have poured enough deer urine across the landscape to coat the state of Pennsylvania during the last 30 years during hunting season, and we have not seen the prevalence of CWD increase because of that. Are we overreacting, heading toward a position where we’re going to affect a $100 million business and perhaps shut it down because of a ‘possibility’?”
But Brown maintained that the risks of CWD spread by hunter deer urine use are just too great to ignore. He pointed out that jeopardizing the billion dollars a year deer-hunting industry in Pennsylvania to protect the deer urine business is foolish.
“You have to realize the magnitude of what we’re dealing with here,” Brown told commissioners.
But Brown conceded that the Game Commission does not have “the jurisdiction” to outlaw the production of deer urine products in Pennsylvania. Only the state regulatory departments of Agriculture or Environmental Protection could do that.
He suggested another course of action to the commissioners – tell hunters they can’t use it …
“We can say we don’t want this in our woods because we think it imposes a risk on deer hunting in Pennsylvania – you can produce it in the state but you just can’t use it in our woods,” he said.
“You can produce it and you can send it elsewhere, but until you can produce some tests that show that it’s a safe product and establish some sort of regulatory oversight – like that affecting just about every other animal product sold in our state – you just can’t use it in our state.”
Right now, according to Brown, deer urine products are handled differently.
Urine – collected on deer farms with “little or no” regulatory oversight – sometimes contains the prions that cause the disease. During collection, it often comes in contact with feces and saliva, both of which are more likely to harbor disease, Brown said.
“We look at every other animal product – whether it’s food, drugs or anything like that – the onus is on those producing it to prove that is safe before you can use it, rather than let’s wait until it causes a problem and then deal with it,” he said.
In the end – at least for this early round – Putnam seemed to come down on the side of caution. In asking agency staff to come up with a regulation to ban hunter use of deer urine, he suggested that the consequences of allowing deer urine contaminated by prions to spread CWD would be catastrophic.
“If, indeed, it can be proven,”Hoover said.
“I think we can accept at this point that it is not going to be proven, Putnam replied. Final approval of any ban would occur early next year at the earliest, so there will be time for public input, he added.
No ban need be permanent, Brown said. If deer farmers can develop a disease-free version of deer urine, that could be made legal down the road, Brown said. In the meantime, they could continue selling their existing product in states where urine remains legal for use, he added.
Pennsylvania hunters, Brown said, could use widely available synthetic urine products until then.