Wolves now seen as control on CWD, but not in Pennsylvania

Wolves Jaquar

There is a way to slow the spread and perhaps eliminate the scourge of chronic wasting disease in Pennsylvania deer, and you heard it here first – stock wolves.

Nah, just kidding. Obviously, introducing those relentless predators into Pennsylvania’s mostly crowded, mixed urban-rural landscape would be irresponsible, wrong headed and disastrous. But it is worth noting that those wild canines are now seen by some as a control on the always-fatal-to-deer disease in other parts of the country.

A study is underway in Yellowstone National Park to see if wolves can control CWD, and interestingly, there is a Pennsylvania connection to the work. Researchers are studying the effects of when a predator sustains the health of a prey population by killing the sickest animals

Are the Yellowstone wolves the first line of defense against CWD Preliminary results of the study suggest that the answer is yes. Researchers are focusing on what is known as the “predator-cleansing effect.”

“There is no management tool that is effective for controlling the disease,” said Ellen Brandell, a doctoral student in wildlife ecology at Penn State, who is leading the project in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service. “There is no vaccine. Can predators potentially be the solution?”

One thing is for sure. Whether the idea holds that wolves can limit CWD in the West, they won’t be stocked to do the job here. Although, believe it or not, there was some discussion of stocking wolves almost 20 years ago. Former Pennsylvania Game Commission press secretary Jerry Feaser gave this answer then about the prospect when asked by a writer with the Timber Wolf Information Network:

“We have not considered, nor will we ever consider, reintroduction of wolves in Pennsylvania, for two reasons,” he said. “First, there is no part of Pennsylvania remote enough for wolves to be reintroduced where they would not cause conflict with humans. And second – because of that – we would not want to have any persecution of the animals, either.”

Eastern coyotes – although they have been shown to have gray wolf genes – don’t seem to kill enough deer, sick or not, to limit chronic wasting disease.

We have hordes of coyotes in our state, and some big males exceed 50 pounds, looking almost wolf-like. But their diet and hunting habits – wildlife biologists tell us they mostly kill smaller mammals and don’t pursue prey such as deer in packs the way wolves do – appears to limit their effectiveness as deer predators.

Although, I realize some Pennsylvania deer hunters will argue strenuously with that observation.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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