Harrisburg — Here we go again. Another sick deer, another disease management area.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture said on Feb. 12 that a farm-raised deer in Lancaster County tested positive for chronic wasting disease. That is, of course, the always-fatal ailment that’s proving to be a scourge for deer – and deer managers – in an increasingly large part of the country.
Pennsylvania is no exception.
Disease Management Area 4 is the latest required to deal with the disease.
It encompasses 346 square miles in northeastern Lancaster County, southeastern Lebanon County and western Berks County. The northern part runs roughly between the cities of Lebanon and Reading. It includes the boroughs of Adamstown, Denver, Ephrata, Mohnton, Richland, Womelsdorf and Wyomissing.
State game lands 46, 220, 225, 274 and 425 are included in the disease area.
As within all disease areas, special rules are in place.
The intentional feeding of deer is prohibited. Hunters may not use urine-based deer attractants or possess them while afield either. And hunters who harvest deer within area boundaries may not transport the carcass outside of them without first removing and properly disposing of all high-risk deer parts, including the head and backbone.
It’s not just hunters who will be impacted, though.
John Kline, governmental affairs director for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, pointed out that hunting is a $1.6 billion industry in the state. Plenty of business owners, large and small, depend on that money to survive and thrive.
“The threat is not just for hunters,” Kline said.
“The necessity of another disease management area from CWD is devastating. This will impact the citizens in that area. It will impact hunters in that area,” agreed commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.
Hunters across the rest of the state will be burdened, too, Burhans added. More of their license dollars will be spent on fighting CWD.
The commission will ramp up the sampling of deer in Disease Management Area 4, for example, said agency communications coordinator Travis Lau. A contractor will be hired to collect roadkills for testing.
Deer Management Assistance Program permits will made available to use anywhere within the area they have permission to hunt this fall, too. That will allow for the harvest of additional antlerless deer – but also lead to higher testing costs.
The commission offered free CWD testing of all deer taken within a disease area last season. It will do so again this year, Lau said.
Hunters who submit their deer’s head for testing are notified of test results, usually within two weeks.
In the meantime, more bad news could be coming.
Disease Management areas 2 and 3 in southcentral and northwestern Pennsylvania, respectively – will probably grow before fall because of new CWD-positive deer discovered near their boundaries, said Wayne Laroche, special assistant for CWD response for the commission.
Already, he said, the total number of sick deer discovered statewide in 2017 has eclipsed the total detected, in total, in the five years prior. That’s with some samples yet to come back from testing, he added.
The commission is looking to shoot family groups of deer in other parts of the state to test for CWD and, perhaps, try to eliminate pockets of infectious deer before they can spread the disease, Laroche said.
The same could ultimately be tried in Disease Management Area 4.
Whether that will be enough to slow the spread of CWD, or stomp it out, remains to be seen.
The first disease management area established in the state was created in 2012 in Adams County. That, too, was in response to a CWD-positive deer on a captive facility.
That disease area was dissolved last year after five consecutive years of no sick deer being discovered.
That’s been the only good news regarding CWD in the state since. In every other respect, things have gone from bad to worse, Burhans said.
The commission has to deal with that, he noted.
That’s because, he said, wasting disease will not “burn out” over time. There’s no evidence it’s always existed – and that deer have learned to adapt to it – over time either, he noted.
He compared it to the blight that wiped out chestnut trees a century ago. Chestnuts were a mainstay for wildlife, perhaps the number one food source across the landscape.
Now they’re gone.
Burhans said the commission is committed “to doing everything we can possibly do” to prevent wasting disease from having a similar impact on white-tailed deer and hunting.
It has no choice, he said, in the face of such an “insidious disease.”
“Chronic wasting disease is another one of those diseases that’s an ecological disaster,” Burhans said.