Bob Frye / Tribune-Review
This buck, apparently the victim of a run-in with a vehicle, made it as far as a small bay in Lake Wilhelm before perishing last fall.
Dave Putnam called it a first.
A Pennsylvania Game Commissioner from Centre County, he’s been beating the drum for a while now about chronic wasting disease. That, of course, is an always fatal malady that impacts white-tailed deer and elk.
It was first discovered in Pennsylvania in the fall of 2012. It’s since spread, with the highest concentrations in Blair and Bedford counties. Those are also the only two places where it’s been found in wild deer.
The disease has been spreading across the country, though, and was recently discovered in Europe for the first time ever. There’s no cure for it and, so far, no known way to treat it.
That’s had Putnam worried.
“It is the No. 1 threat to our hunting heritage that’s out there right now,” he said.
Yet, perhaps because the disease takes a while to show up in individual deer, and even longer to show up on a noticeable basis in herds, hunters don’t seem to realize its potentially devastating effects, he said.
“It’s like ice melting,” Putnam said.
He’s long been surprised that no one ever attended a commission meeting to talk about it.
That finally changed at the board’s April meeting.
Mike Gee, who owns Tioga Ranch, a hunting preserve in Tioga County, testified before the board, suggesting it initiate a more aggressive road-killed deer collection program. His fear, he said, is that scavenger birds will feed on the carcasses of CWD-positive deer and spread the disease around.
“I think it is an issue that ought to be looked at and addressed,” Gee said.
Commission president Brian Hoover said the agency does have contractors collecting roadkills inside the state’s three disease management areas, where wasting disease has been found. All of those animals are tested, he said.
The effort is not statewide, however.
The commission does do a sampling of hunter-killed deer from across the state. But it does not specifically target roadkills across all counties.
Roadkills are indeed proving to be the biggest reservoir of the disease.
Matt Hough, executive director of the commission, said that of the deer found to date with CWD, more have been roadkills than hunter-killed deer.
“The percentage is much higher. We’re not sure why that is,” Hough said.
Meanwhile, for a look at what CWD can do to a deer herd – and the picture is devastating — look at Wisconsin.
That was the first state east of the Mississippi to get CWD. Initially, biologists launched an aggressive deer cull in an attempt to wipe it out. That proved unpopular with hunters, so that “nuclear option,” as it’s been called here, ended.
In fact, the state appears to have given up combating the disease altogether.
This past year, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources tested a record-low number of deer for CWD. Testing began in 2002.
The worse news? It still found a record number of sick animals – 9.5 percent of all those examined, or nearly one in 10.
Last fall marked the 10th in a row where the CWD infection rate climbed over the year before.
That has some state lawmakers there calling for action.
In a press release, two members of the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage, Nick Milroy and Chris Danou, asked Gov. Scott Walker to force the Department of Natural Resources to do more to stop the spread of CWD.
“If we continue to sit on our hands, CWD will spread to every corner of our state,” Milroy said. “We must act now to slow the spread of this devastating disease and to protect our hunting heritage and the billion dollar economic impact that deer hunting brings to Wisconsin.”