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Chronic Wasting Disease moves closer to Centre County

Pennsylvania Game Commission plans for next winter may include the “targeted removal” of small groups of deer in the core townships with the highest rates of chronic wasting disease.
Pennsylvania Game Commission plans for next winter may include the “targeted removal” of small groups of deer in the core townships with the highest rates of chronic wasting disease. Photo provided

The Pennsylvania Game Commission announced Wednesday that, during 2015, a dozen new white-tailed deer had tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Disease Management Area 2. DMA 2 is just south of Centre County and includes all or parts of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Huntingdon, Fulton and Somerset counties. It is the only area of the state where CWD has been detected in wild deer.

Of the 12 CWD-positive deer, eight were roadkills, two were suspected to be sick and put down by wildlife conservation officers, and two were hunter-harvested deer. CWD can only be positively detected in dead deer.

The agency’s announcement more than doubles — from 10 to 22 — the number of positive CWD cases in free-ranging deer in DMA 2. Several of these new cases are near the southeastern and northwestern disease management area boundaries. As per their news release, the Commission has expanded DMA 2 farther into Fulton County to the east along the Pennsylvania Maryland border and slightly into Franklin County.

One CWD deer was documented north of Altoona, therefore DMA 2 was also expanded northwest to include more of Blair County northwest of Tyrone and Bellwood, farther into Cambria County, and includes a tiny piece of Clearfield County. The expanded boundary stops just short of Prince Gallitzin State Park, but includes three state game lands on the mountain to the northwest of Bellwood and Tyrone — SGL 108, SGL 158 and SGL 184.

The new boundaries increase Disease Management Area 2 by 437.4 square miles — an 18 percent increase over its size in 2015. The disease containment area now totals 2845.4 square miles and includes parts of four wildlife management units — 2C, 2E, 4A and 4D. All of Centre County south of I-80 is part of WMU 4D, but none of the county is currently in the DMA.

An updated map of DMA 2 can be found on the Game Commission’s website — www.pgc.pa.gov — and will be printed in the new Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, available in June. According to the Commission, new cases of CWD could further expand the area later this year.

Special rules regarding the hunting, transport and feeding of wild deer apply within all DMAs. These are detailed in full online and in the digest. The regulations prohibit the removal or exportation of high-risk animal parts, the rehabilitation of cervids, use or possession of cervid urine-based attractants and the feeding of wild deer.

Chronic wasting disease is a prion-caused neurological condition that is always fatal to cervids — elk, deer and moose. CWD is thought to be transmitted by direct animal-to-animal contact through saliva, feces and urine. The disease attacks the brain and spinal cord of the deer, similar to “Mad Cow Disease” in cattle. It is similar to Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans, although CWD is not known to be transmissible to people.

Beginning with its initial discovery in 1967 — in a captive mule deer in Colorado — CWD has now spread to more than 20 states and two Canadian provinces. This includes Ohio, New York, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Since taking over as the Director of the Bureau of Wildlife Management in August, 2015, Wayne Laroche has consulted with many of the CWD experts across the United States. He clearly recognizes CWD as an urgent problem that must be addressed.

The Game Commission hopes to act sooner rather than later to put in place additional control measures to stop the spread and growth of the disease within the Commonwealth. These measures will likely include an all-state ban on high-risk deer parts being imported into Pennsylvania from states known to have chronic wasting disease. It may also involve targeted removal of deer at locations where CWD-positive animals have been found. Discussion and planning are currently underway. Details will be provided once the planning process is further along.

“All control and preventive options are on the table, but we can only do what the public allows us to do,” Laroche said.

An overall reduction in herd size in the disease management area eliminates potentially diseased deer and lessens the chance of deer-to-deer contact that can spread CWD. However, Illinois uses sharpshooters in specific locations where CWD-positive deer have been found. According to Laroche, that has been quite effective in keeping the rate of CWD in Illinois at about one percent.

“Based on what was done in Illinois, next winter we will likely create baited areas in the specific townships that have been the core area for CWD infection and then use sharpshooters to eliminate entire family groups that are likely infected,” Laroche detailed. “This is my plan unless we are stopped.”

Five Blair County townships — Frankstown, Blair, Freedom, Greenfield and Taylor — and six Bedford County townships — Kimmel, Bloomfield, King, South Woodbury, East St. Clair and Bedford — are considered to be the core townships. This is basically the I-99 corridor and the Morrison Cove, which is bisected by Route 36.

In addition to increasing the size of DMA 2, the commission is issuing an extra 14,500 DMA 2 Antlerless Deer Permits. These special permits are in addition to antlerless licenses allocated for the WMUs partially within DMA 2, and they are designed to reduce the number of deer within the DMA.

According to agency figures supplied by Laroche, the Game Commission is actively enforcing the regulations set in place to help prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease. During the past two years, over 175 citations have been issued for violating CWD management rules. Offenses included importation of high-risk cervid parts from areas outside of Pennsylvania known to have CWD, feeding deer in a CWD area, and transporting a deer from a CWD area.

If we fail to develop and implement an effective control program, we risk the future of deer hunting along with all of the social and economic benefits that wild white-tailed deer and elk provide to the people of Pennsylvania.

Wayne Laroche, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Management

“One thing we know is we will not be successful without the support of deer hunters and the general public,” Laroche said. “If we fail to develop and implement an effective control program, we risk the future of deer hunting along with all of the social and economic benefits that wild white-tailed deer and elk provide to the people of Pennsylvania.”

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com.

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