Here’s why the new CWD response plan will likely not be in place by the fall hunting season

Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal disease of deer, elk and moose. No deer or elk have yet tested positive for the disease in Centre County.
Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal disease of deer, elk and moose. No deer or elk have yet tested positive for the disease in Centre County. For the CDT

Last month the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced that the implementation of its new chronic wasting disease response plan would be postponed — by possibly as long as 18 months. It was originally to be ready for implementation on June 8 of this year. No release date for the new plan has been set, but it definitely will not be fully in place for this fall’s hunting seasons.

According to commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans, staff started to work on a new plan last fall, but after the uprising of hunters in Blair and Bedford counties over targeted removal, he knew that the plan would be a failure without hunter support.

“Instead of pushing forward, we took a step back to reassess where we are at and to look at a pathway forward,” Burhans said.

Agency CWD Coordinator Jared Oister added, “The plan is essentially finished, but we haven’t gathered public, hunter and landowner input. It isn’t being rolled out because we felt like we didn’t have public input and we know, based on what happened in other states, that we need that input for success.”

For the third year in a row, the total number of free-ranging deer testing positive for CWD in Pennsylvania has doubled. Figures released by the Pennsylvania Game Commission show that 123 new cases of CWD were discovered in 2018, bringing the total to 250 free-ranging deer that tested positive since the disease was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2012.

Of these 250 CWD-positive deer, 122 came from Bedford County, 66 from adjacent Fulton County and 41 from Blair County. This equals 229 — 91 percent of the total — all from the same area of the state.

Disease Management Area 2 was expanded by more than 2,000 square miles to the east to include two new outliers in Juniata and Perry counties. Thankfully it was not moved north into Centre County.

What to expect this fall

Sixteen new CWD collection bins will be in place this fall and some bins already in position will probably be relocated.

Right now, some of our collection bins are in pretty out-of-the-way places,” Oister said. “There is a proposal to move them closer to the people and possibly putting bins near popular processors. It is unrealistic to expect that a hunter would drop off a deer at a processor then drive the head back to a bin located miles away on a game land.”

The agency is concerned about the two new CWD positives in Perry and Juniata counties. In addition, a deer that was shot near the commission’s Southcentral office along state Route 22 in Huntingdon County tested positive. Route 22 lies at the very northern edge of Disease Management Area 2.

“We will be working with hunters and landowners in those areas,” Oister said. “We want them to understand the importance of collecting more samples around the area of the new positives. We need to get lots of samples from those areas so that we know what is happening there.”

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At least 16 new collection bins will be available to hunters this fall — mostly in Disease Management Area 2. Others will likely be moved closer to processors. Mark Nale For the CDT

A glimpse at what the new plan might look like

Although Oister would not release many details of the draft of the new CWD response plan, he described it as “aggressive” and “more management oriented.”

According to Oister, there will be no change in regulations pertaining to the use of urine-based scents, but there might be an adjustment in antler restrictions in disease management areas.

“We do know and understand that hunters want the first opportunity to harvest the deer — that will be part of the plan,” Oister noted. “We are investigating incentives for hunters to harvest deer and for landowners to open their land to hunters. Our planned faster response time to get CWD test results back to hunters should allow them to be issued another deer tag if their deer tests positive.”

Oister hopes that a draft of the new plan will be released before the end of summer, but he acknowledged that this is ultimately not his decision.

“We really want to get hunter and landowner input on the plan because it will only work if we have support,” Oister said. “Their support is the key for success.”

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At issue in April’s The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Fisheries Committee meeting is the management of the beautiful wild brown trout in a small section of Spruce Creek. Whether the commission decides to go Artificial-Lures-Only could be decided by July. Mark Nale For the CDT

Update on the Spruce Creek tackle debate

Since the proposal to change Huntingdon County’s Spruce Creek from all-tackle catch-and-release to the more exclusive artificial-lures-only was made at the April 29 meeting of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Fisheries Committee, local angler Mark Jackson has been busy garnering support for keeping the water open for all tackle.

The board of directors of the 70,000-member Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists voted to support the all-tackle proposal, as did the Central Counties Sportsmen and the Little Juniata River Association. These organizations support the idea that this section of stream should be open to all anglers — regardless of what is on the end of their line.

However, there is a concerted effort by some fly-fishing groups to subvert the wishes of the commissioners. The Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited was asked for its support, but declined to support all-tackle catch-and-release.

The comment period ended June 24.

Field notes

  • Reminder: New 2019-2020 hunting licenses went on sale June 17 and are available for purchase. The application period for antlerless deer begins July 8, and the deadline to be eligible for the elk license drawings is July 31.
  • The Game Commission finally came to its senses — the 2019-20 Hunting and Trapping Digest will be free this year, instead of costing $6.

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

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