Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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CWD situation in Pennsylvania calls for drastic action

Two recent developments should add even more urgency to plans to control the spread of chronic wasting disease in Pennsylvania.

A June discovery in Clearfield County has identified CWD in wild deer, thus adding a new disease area of the state. In addition, just a week ago, on July 26, two tagged farm deer were discovered running wild in Elk County.

On June 7, a sickly white-tailed buck was dispatched by a Pennsylvania Game Commission officer. Subsequent testing showed that the buck was in the later stages of the always-fatal chronic wasting disease. It is during this stage that they are most likely to spread the disease.

The sick deer was spotted on State Game Land 87, in Bell Township, at the extreme western edge of Clearfield County. This is the first time that a free-ranging deer was found to have CWD in Disease Management Area 3. DMA 3 was created in 2014, after testing by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture revealed CWD at two captive deer farms in Jefferson County.

Wayne Laroche, the  commission’s special assistant for CWD response, noted that the CWD-positive buck was found approximately eight miles from the Jefferson County deer facility, where CWD was first detected in that area. That location was also just four miles from a quarantined deer facility.

Of greater concern, the CWD-positive buck was discovered only 10 miles south of Pennsylvania’s elk range. This infected animal was 35 miles from the closest free-ranging infected deer in DMA 2, so it is unlikely that the CWD was spread by deer from DMA 2.

In an effort to test more deer from DMA 3, the Game Commission is issuing 2,800 additional DMAP permits that can be used to harvest antlerless deer anywhere in DMA 3 — on both public or private land (with landowner permission). Hunters may purchase up to two of these extra permits. This is a smart move.

Burhans stressed the urgency of the situation and also addressed the likelihood that the commission would use sharpshooters to conduct a targeted removal of deer from the immediate area where the sick buck was found. Laroche explained that this surgical removal would probably involve hundreds of deer rather than thousands. According to Burhans and Laroche, this method has been very effective at controlling CWD in Illinois.

Although they stressed the importance and urgency of using sharpshooters, when pressed on the timing of such an action, they said that it would be more likely to happen after fall and winter hunting season — six months from now.

Another new CWD-related development occurred on July 26, when two free-ranging deer were spotted in Ridgeway Township, Elk County — both wearing ear tags from a deer farm. The deer were euthanized and tests are being conducted to determine if they are CWD positive. The commission is also seeking information about which deer facility the deer escaped – or were released – from.

This has potentially major consequences because chronic wasting disease was first discovered in captive deer in Pennsylvania. According to the recent Game Commission news release, “The discovery of deer from a captive herd in the wild raises significant concerns as the commission attempts to combat the expansion of CWD.”

Chronic wasting disease spreads and the situation worsens. It is time for more action from the Game Commission.

Last fall, Laroche recommended surgical removal of deer from known areas of infection in DMA 2 (primarily Bedford and Blair counties), but that never occurred. I suspect that the agency is afraid of fallout from hunters and politicians if they use sharpshooters. I just hope for the sake of deer, deer hunting and elk viewing that the agency follows through as soon as possible. In my opinion, the commission should attempt to educate the public, then do the right thing and worry about possible negative consequences later.

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