Officials discuss health of wildlife

Kerry Benninghoff, Representative of the 171st Legislative District, hosted a sportsmen’s update on Thursday at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology.

The event gave Centre County hunters and anglers an opportunity to hear from Pennsylvania Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission officials about the health of local wildlife and habitats.

With archery season in full swing and deer season about three weeks away, the focal point of the discussion was chronic wasting disease and how it’s affecting the deer population in the area.

CWD is a contagious neurological disease that affects an animal’s brain. An infected deer will experience weight loss, degeneration of motor skills, loss of bodily functions and death, usually within 18-24 months from infection.

Wayne Laroche, Pennsylvania wildlife management director, discussed the findings of research conducted in an area named DMA2, which is a 2,800-square-mile area that includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon, Cambria and Fulton counties.

According to Laroche, DMA2 has had 26 cases of CWD since 2012 and there have been no reported cases in Centre County.

To combat the disease, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is allowing a greater number of hunting permits with the hopes of keeping the deer population down. The commission is also planning targeted removal programs that aim to eliminate infected deer families.

A similar program has been implemented in Illinois. The program has kept the infected deer population at just under two percent, which is near Pennsylvania’s 1.7 percent infected rate. But despite the government efforts, Laroche asked hunters to be vigilant this season.

“If you see a sick deer we are encouraging hunters to contact our offices,” Laroche said. “We will not be able to succeed if the hunters don’t believe that we’re doing the right thing and if the hunters don’t support us.”

Laroche added that there is no evidence that the disease can be passed to humans, but he urged the public to refrain from eating a deer if they believe it was sick. Any hunter who would like to have their deer tested can do so by contacting the game commission. The test will cost the hunter $75.