Make no mistake, they’re laying the groundwork.
And maybe rightly so.
But that won’t make it easy to take. Think of it as the wildlife management equivalent of a double dose of cod liver oil.
This week, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials announced that they found 12 new cases of deer with chronic wasting disease this past fall. All were wild deer, and all came from within what’s known as disease management area, or DMA, 2.
Twelve is a significant number.
It’s not only the most ever found in a single year, but it more than doubles the total number of cases found statewide to date.
One of those deer – thanks to a hunter who either didn’t pay attention or willingly broke the rules — was taken, whole, outside of the disease area. That’s illegal. Hunters are required to have deer processed and, if they choose, mounted within the area’s boundaries to prevent disease from spreading.
This hunter blew it.
“The hunter in the case transported a buck that later tested positive for CWD from DMA 2 to a deer processor far outside of the DMA, and the high-risk parts went to a rendering plant,” reads a commission press release.
He was cited and paid a fine, for what that’s worth.
Meanwhile, the commission has done two things already in light of the new CWD cases. It’s expanded the boundaries of disease area 2 to take in another 437 square miles. The expansion occurred largely to the southeast and to the northwest, moving it further into Cambria County all the way to the edge of Prince Gallitzin State Park.
It’s also decided to issue 14,500 DMA 2-specific antlerless deer permits for the 2016-17 seasons. They’re in addition to the regular doe tags available for those wildlife management units anyway.
The permits go on sale July 11.
It’s what the commission may do next that will be the hard medicine, short term.
Months ago, Wayne Laroche, director of the commission’s bureau of wildlife management, told board members two things.
First, wasting disease is spread most commonly through deer-to-deer contact.
Second, some work being done by a Penn State graduate student appears to show that whitetails exist on the landscape in genetic pockets. Many if not all of the deer in an area are typically related, he said.
Based on that, one idea is that if all of the deer in a specific location are eliminated by “targeted shooting” – i.e., killed by sharpshooters over bait – there’s a chance wasting disease can be removed from a population or at least held in check, Laroche told board members then.
It means killing a lot of deer, though. When asked, the commission’s chief deer biologist, Chris Rosenberry, said that based on data showing how far deer travel, targeted shooting might have to remove deer from an area measured in several square miles.
Illinois wildlife officials have used the “surgical strategy” to keep wasting disease at low levels in hot spots, the commission release said. Their counterparts in Wisconsin – where wasting disease exists in 40 percent of the deer herd in places – is considering using it now.
The commission apparently is, too.
Its news release said it “hopes to act sooner rather than later to put in place active control measures to stop the spread and growth of the disease within the Commonwealth. These measures may 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.”
Laroche said months ago he hoped to meet with sportsmen’s groups prior to any “targeted” shooting occurring, to explain why it was necessary and get buy in.
The guess now – given all the new cases – is that while those meetings may still occur, the decision to do the shooting is likely pretty much already made.
The stakes are just too high, Laroche said, calling CWD the “one disease that has the potential to drastically change deer hunting as we know it.”
“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.”