CWD deer kills may be set for January
Harrisburg — 16
All are being considered by the Pennsylvania Game Commission as ways of slowing, if not stopping, the spread of chronic wasting disease across the state.
Wayne Laroche, director of the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, told board members at their June 6 work group meeting that now is the time to worry about wasting disease.
Some states, like Wisconsin and West Virginia, now have the disease in up to 40 percent of the deer herd in places. Here in Pennsylvania, it exists at a prevalence rate of about 1.7 percent of tested deer, Laroche said.
“At this time, it is as low as it’s going to be,” Laroche said.
The goal is to keep it there, he said.
He offered several options regarding how to do it.
The most unusual suggestion was to put deer-proof fencing around the northern and eastern edges of disease management area 2 in southcentral Pennsylvania.
That would be a lot of fence. The disease area takes in more than 2,840 square miles.
Laroche admitted some might view such a proposal as “hairbrained.”
But he’s been studying chronic wasting disease everywhere it exists, he said. Nowhere that it’s been discovered has it been eradicated.
That makes every possible option something to be considered, he said.
Matt Hough, executive director of the commission, said fencing wouldn’t stop deer from moving completely. Erected along highway edges, there would be opportunities for deer to use the same exits as vehicles, he said.
Fencing is probably something the commission couldn’t afford anyway, he added.
That leaves some other options, perhaps, as more realistic.
One the commission will be directly involved with involves targeted shooting of deer. Laroche said the agency would like to hire sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal plant and health inspection service to kill deer within the disease area starting in January.
They wouldn’t be shooting deer at random.
Rather, the idea would be to go to locations where a CWD-positive deer was detected and set out bait. Sharpshooters would shoot all those that come to the food, Laroche said. They’d then be tested.
If the animals proved to be disease free, the sharpshooters would move on to the next hot spot. If the animals were in fact sick, however, they’d attempt to remove more there.
Just how many deer might that be, asked commission president Brian Hoover, of Delaware County. He said it might be five to 10 deer per site.
Laroche wouldn’t put a number on it. But he said the goal would be to eliminate family groups of whitetails, as it’s likely disease is being passed from animal to animal. It wouldn’t be square miles that had to be cleansed, though, he said.
And deer would ultimately return to repopulate shooting areas, he said.
“It takes time for new family groups to form in those areas. We don’t know how long,” he added.
Commissioner Tim Layton, of Somerset County, noted that hunters have been cooperating with the commission in buying and using disease management area permits to harvest deer in the area. That’s helped some, he said.
“So I think we’ve got a good relationship there,” he said.
Laroche agreed, but said targeted shooting is a more efficient and more effective way to target family groups and problem areas. As proof he pointed to Illinois.
That state’s Department of Natural Resources has been using targeted shooting to eliminate potentially sick deer in its CWD-endemic areas for years.
That’s worked, he said. Disease prevalence rates there have remained at about 1 percent.
Some other options – intended to “close loopholes” – might be in the works, too.
The commission has been talking to deer farmers and the state Department of Agriculture with regards to captive deer.
Right now, hunters can’t move high-risk deer parts – such as brains and lymph nodes – outside the boundaries of the disease management area. Movement of identical parts from pen-raised deer is subject to no such restriction, however, Laroche said.
The commission would like that to change, he said.
He said he’s also broached the idea of requiring all captive deer not behind a double fence to be ear-tagged so that escapees are easily identifiable if and when they get loose.
Laroche has also been talking to taxidermists. Some, previously trained by the Department of Agriculture, may be recruited to help collect tissue samples from mature bucks. That’s a type of deer that’s been underserved, Laroche said, as hunters take their heads from butcher shops visited by commission staff.
The commission may also partner with them to better educate hunters about what they need to do to prepare to bring deer heads back to Pennsylvania from other states.
The commission will also soon either add Arkansas – which recently discovered CWD within its borders – to the list of states from which no high-risk parts can be imported, or just make a rule saying no high-risk parts can be brought here from any state or province on the continent, Laroche said.
As part of updating its chronic wasting disease response plan –last done in 2011 – the commission will also be crafting a wasting disease outreach team.
To be made up of biologists, information and education staff from the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters and regional offices, and others, its goal will be to speak to hunters and others at a series of open houses, civic group meetings, legislative gatherings, and other events.
Members will be tasked with talking to as many people as possible in the next three months, before the fall hunting seasons get rolling, Laroche said.
“So this is going to have to happen pretty quickly,” he added.
Perhaps, Laroche said, all of those measures, in combination, will contain wasting disease in the state. There’s an “urgent” need to get started, though.
“We will have no better chance than we have right now,” Laroche said.