Amid Pennsylvania CWD fears, biologists propose more doe tags

Staff Report

Harrisburg — Disease trumps habitat, it seems.

In recommending how many doe licenses to make available for the 2018-19 hunting seasons, Pennsylvania Game Commission deer biologists proposed big changes in two wildlife management units. One was 2G, the other 2C.

The commission issued 25,500 doe tags for 2G last season. Biologists recommended 39,000 for this fall.

It’s getting 30,000.

None of that was necessarily unexpected.

Biologists actually recommended 38,000 doe tags for the unit last year. It was commissioners who dropped it to 25,500.

Chris Rosenberry, head of the deer and elk section, suggested a higher number again this year because, while the deer population in the unit is stable, it’s having a “high” impact on forest health. The idea, he said, was to reduce the herd a bit.

Commissioners, though, weren’t willing to go all in.

Board member Jim Daley, of Butler County, said the proposed jump seemed “dramatic.” So board members settled on the 30,000 figure.

They were on board with a dramatic increase in tags for unit 2C, however.

Last year, biologists recommended 32,000 tags for the unit and commissioners went with 31,000 tags for 2C. This year they went with 44,000.

The herd there is increasing, Rosenberry said, and the goal is to stabilize it.

But why was such a dramatic increase palatable there and not in 2G?

Chronic wasting disease.

There is none in 2C yet, so far that the commission has been able to detect. But part of the unit lies within Disease Management Area 2, where wasting disease is increasingly showing up in wild deer.

The commission fears what might happen if wasting disease shows up in a large, dense deer herd.

“And that has influenced our recommendations in a number of units,” Rosenberry said.

The same is true, if to a slightly less dramatic extent, in Wildlife Management Units 2D and 4A.

Unit 2D accounts for more bucks, and more bucks per unit of area, than any anywhere else in Pennsylvania, Rosenberry said. It’s also on the edge of Disease Management Area 3, which is expected to expand in the direction of 2D this year.

So, in an attempt to reduce a stable population, commissioners allocated 63,000 doe tags. That’s up from 55,000 a year ago.

Unit 4A, meanwhile, lies entirely within Disease Management Area 2. In years’ past, the commission tried using disease management area tags and deer management assistance program tags to keep deer numbers there stable.

This year, they’re just upping the allocation. It was 30,000 last year; this year it will be 38,000.

The hope is that, in all of those areas, but especially those where chronic wasting disease already exists, hunters can keep deer under control, Rosenberry said.

What the commission doesn’t want is for things to get out of hand, he added. There are two reasons.

One is that hunters may just leave the woods if disease gets too widespread.

Right now, chronic wasting disease has been found in less than 3 percent of all deer tested in Disease Management Area 2, Rosenberry said.

But it can potentially spread exponentially. In parts of Wisconsin and West Virginia, CWD prevalence rates are close to 25 percent.

That could be enough to cause hunters to hang up their bows and guns.

“According to preliminary results from our most recent deer-hunter survey here in Pennsylvania, if CWD infections reach the level observed in West Virginia and Wisconsin, about a third of our Pennsylvania deer hunters say their interest in deer hunting will decline,” Rosenberry said.

“So obviously this is a significant concern for the future of deer and CWD management efforts.”

The other issue is what might happen to deer herds if CWD takes off that way.

Rosenberry said research done in Wyoming recently suggests that deer infected with wasting disease survive at only about half the rate as healthy deer.

What that means is, if wasting disease is present in even 3 percent of a herd, and those animals survive only half as long as their healthy counterparts, herd size can change dramatically.

“Over a 25-year period, that deer population potentially declines by about a third,” Rosenberry said.

To keep deer as healthy as possible and hunters in the woods, the commission has to manage things as best it can, Rosenberry said. And doe allocations like those adopted this year are the tool for doing it.

“Our antlerless deer license recommendations are part of our attempt to do more to address the threat of CWD to deer and deer hunting in Pennsylvania,” Rosenberry said.

In the meantime, here’s a look at the doe license allocation statewide.

The total number of tags available is 838,000. That compares to 804,000 last season.

Here’s the breakdown by wildlife management unit, with this year’s allocation listed first, followed by last year’s allocation in parentheses.

Unit 1A: 48,000 (52,000);

Unit 1B: 37,000 (35,000);

Unit 2A: 49,000 (50,000);

Unit 2B: 58,000 (60,000);

Unit 2C: 44,000 (31,000);

Unit 2D: 63,000 (55,000);

Unit 2E: 27,000 (22,000);

Unit 2F: 23,000 (24,000);

Unit 2G: 30,000 (25,500);

Unit 2H: 6,000 (7,000);

Unit 3A: 22,000 (20,000);

Unit 3B: 29,000 (30,000);

Unit 3C: 38,000 (42,000);

Unit 3D: 25,000 (25,000);

Unit 4A: 38,000 (30,000);

Unit 4B: 26,000 (26,000);

Unit 4C: 30,000 (29,000);

Unit 4D: 34,000 (34,000);

Unit 4E: 32,000 (27,500);

Unit 5A: 23,000 (22,000);

Unit 5B: 58,000 (57,000);

Unit 5C: 70,000 (70,000);

Unit 5D: 28,000 (30,000).

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