In Pennsylvania, CWD is a statewide problem that needs statewide action
There is a giant disconnect between the elected officials in Harrisburg and us hunters, anglers and outdoor lovers whom they are supposed to represent. The vast majority of Pennsylvania’s state senators and representatives don’t hunt, few fish regularly and, to the best of my knowledge, none have degrees in wildlife management.
I often wonder how many of them ever use our state parks, kayak or even take a walk in the woods. How many have bird-feeders in their backyards? I have talked with a small number who are exceptions, but for the most part, our elected representatives know little about the outdoors.
Worse than that, there are a few who act like they hold wildlife degrees, and unfortunately, their opinions are trusted by colleagues. Then there are a couple officials who are in leadership and seem to love holding our wildlife agencies hostage. If you read Pennsylvania Outdoor News, you know their names. It makes no sense to me.
I was dismayed once again to see a local politician get involved with wildlife management. This time, it was Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair) who fielded concerns from his constituents, then met with Pennsylvania Game Commission officials. Within hours, the commission called off its targeted removal operation that was just beginning in northern Bedford and southern Blair counties.
The agency’s news release claimed “lack of access to private land” as the reason for the decision. Considering the local protests and the negative publicity, that should be no surprise.
Targeted removal, a tactic that is working in Illinois, involves using trained sharpshooters to lower the deer population in specific areas where the incidence of chronic wasting disease is the highest. The goal is to lower the deer density to slow the spread of the disease and to remove infected individuals from the population.
Last year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission offered 3,000 extra antlerless deer permits in Deer Management Area 2 in an attempt to lower deer densities in the areas with the highest number of CWD-infected deer. The previous winter, the agency started a study in an attempt to measure deer dispersal and other factors.
Hunters did not significantly lower the deer numbers, and no wonder — some of the local hunters bragged about buying the permits and burning them. Therefore, the Game Commission moved to the next step, which was using U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters to selectively remove deer in the areas with the highest rate of infection. This happens to be in Rep. Gregory’s district.
CWD is a statewide problem, not just a Blair-Bedford County problem. It is unfortunate that one elected official was swayed by hunters who purchased the extra antlerless deer tags, burned them, and then complained about the way the Game Commission was attempting to manage the deer and the disease.
I am pretty sure that if Bedford County wanted to haul all of their trash to a new landfill in Centre County, we would hear from Centre County politicians. If Blair County contracted to dump all of their sewage sludge in Dauphin County, there would be an uproar.
Chronic wasting disease is actually worse than sewage or trash, but we don’t hear a peep from our representatives. Instead, a group of selfish, misinformed hunters and one representative negatively affected the state’s economy, the health of wildlife, and maybe humans, across the remainder of the state.
An agency news release at least hints that the Pennsylvania Game Commission recognized its role in this. “While the lack of access to private land is unfortunate, it could well demonstrate there is work to do when it comes to educating the public about CWD, and we will be ramping up our efforts to bring the facts about this disease and its potential impacts on Pennsylvania to light,” said Game Commission bureau of wildlife management director Matthew Schnupp.
“Could well demonstrate …” Really? No, I think that it CLEARLY DEMONSTRATES that work needs to be done in the public relations and education departments.
I also think that it is time for elected officials from Centre, Lycoming, Clinton and other counties to the north and east to support the Game Commission in the agency’s efforts to slow the spread of CWD. CWD is a statewide problem with statewide consequences.