Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pennsylvania Game Commission asks for public support in treating chronic wasting disease

By Bob Frye
Amidst a situation described as “dire” already and potentially “catastrophic” soon, a campaign for the hearts and minds of Pennsylvania's hunters is underway.
Newly discovered chronic wasting disease is the reason.
Pennsylvania Game Commission officials said an adult buck with CWD, as the always-fatal ailment is known, recently was found on state game land 87 in Bell Township, Clearfield County. That's within disease management area 3.
Wasting disease was discovered there previously, in 2014. That, though, was on two captive deer farms.
It never was detected in wild deer there before now, despite the commission having tested 1,012 hunter- and road-killed whitetails, executive director Bryan Burhans said.
Its presence is bad news, given what's at stake.
Burhans said hunting generates $1.6 billion in economic activity statewide annually. Hunting license sales, meanwhile, largely fund the commission.
“The mere existence of chronic wasting disease in Pennsylvania represents a serious risk to our deer and elk herds and hunting and conservation in the commonwealth,” Burhans said.
It's not just one deer jeopardizing that.
Justin Brown, the commission's wildlife veterinarian, said the Clearfield County buck was euthanized by a wildlife conservation officer after exhibiting “clinical” signs of disease. It was emaciated, he said, and lethargic to the point of being unaware of its surroundings.
Given how the disease works, that suggests the deer was sick — and spreading infectious prions on the landscape — for at least one year, and perhaps two, before discovery, said Wayne Laroche, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management.
So it's probably not one of a kind.
“I think there's a pretty high likelihood that there are” other sick deer out there, Laroche said.
If left unchecked, he said, the disease will spread “exponentially.”
That's how things are playing out elsewhere within the state.
Between 2012 and '15, the commission found — statewide — 22 CWD-positive deer. Then, last year alone, it found 25 more, all wild animals within disease management area 2 in southcentral Pennsylvania.
This year it has confirmed nine more there.
“So we have every reason to believe we'll be on the order of 40 or 50 cases this year,” Laroche said.
If that's not scary enough, discovery of wasting disease in management area 3 has potential to do more harm.
The sick Clearfield County buck was found just 10 miles from the western edge of the state's elk range. Elk, too, are susceptible to CWD.
The idea the state's elk might contract disease is alarming, said Cindy Dunn, secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
She called them the “keystone” of tourism in northcentral Pennsylvania. They, more than anything else, draw visitors to the region to learn about conservation, explore the outdoors and spend money, she said.
“A threat to our elk herd is a threat to conservation in our view, and a threat to tourism and our economy,” Dunn said. “So we view this very, very seriously.”
The Keystone Elk Country Alliance does as well.
Andy Olsen, a biologist with the Alliance, said the Elk Country Visitor Center has drawn more than two million visitors since opening in 2010. They've come from all 50 states and 45 countries.
The fear, he said, is that if wasting disease gets into the elk herd — and leads to fewer elk — that activity will dry up.
“Some business models in the region are based on per capita spending by visitors. So fewer visitors means less income for businesses,” Olsen said.
That's where the campaign — nothing short of a plea, really — comes in.
Burhans stressed the need to aggressively attack the disease, costly though it will be.
The commission has been spending about $1 million a year on wasting disease. He expects that to at least double.
But such investments are “necessary and the right thing to do,” he said.
Dunn and Olsen agreed and said they're behind whatever the commission wants and needs to do, with Dunn going so far as to pledge to “commit resources” to the battle.
And what is the commission's plan?
It will make available 2,800 deer management assistance program permits for disease area 3. They'll allow hunters to kill antlerless deer on public or private ground.
Applications will be available soon, Burhans said.
It also will establish two collection sites — at locations to be determined — where hunters will be asked to drop off deer heads for testing. Using those, the commission will pinpoint where sick deer are coming from.
That leads to perhaps the trickiest part of the commission's response plan.
Next winter, after hunting seasons close, it will use sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cull potentially hundreds of deer, Laroche said.
The goal, he said, will be to remove highly susceptible family groups and contain or eliminate the disease, as has worked elsewhere.
“This is really the only tool we have, the only method that has shown any success,” Laroche said.
It sometimes has been controversial elsewhere, though.
In Wisconsin, for example, efforts to cull deer met with enough public opposition that they were largely abandoned.
Burhans, Dunn and Olsen called for public support of that work here.
The commission will conduct two public meetings this year — one in disease area 2, another in area 3 — to spread that message. Burhans hopes people will accept the necessity of killing deer for the sake of the overall herd.
“There is still a lot that's unknown about chronic wasting disease. But the methods we are proposing are the best options we have at this time, based on results in Pennsylvania and other states with CWD,” Burhans said.
“If we are going to have any chance of controlling this disease, we will need the support of our hunters, the public and our partners in the legislature.”
About the elk herd
So what happens if chronic wasting disease shows up in Pennsylvania's elk herd?
No one's saying.
The Game Commission has been looking for evidence of the illness in elk. Justin Brown, its veterinarian, said it tests virtually all of the adult elk killed by hunters each fall. It annually tests another dozen or so that seem sick.
“So we feel we have fairly good surveillance,” Brown said.
So far, no elk has come back positive for wasting disease.
But if one contracts it?
Wayne Laroche, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management, wouldn't commit to trying targeted removal — i.e., sharpshooting — of elk. But he didn't rule anything out, either.
“We're going to have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” Laroche said.
— Bob Frye

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

Sunday, July 16, 2017


HARRISBURG, PA - Chronic wasting disease has spread to free-ranging deer in an area of the state where it previously had been detected only in captive deer.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission today announced a free-ranging whitetail buck in Bell Township, Clearfield County, has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).
A news conference about the new CWD-positive deer and the Game Commission’s response will be held on Thursday, July 13, at noon at the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters. The news conference will be available to view on the Game Commission’s social media pages.
The CWD-positive buck was shot by a wildlife conservation officer June 7 on State Game Lands 87 because it showed signs of being diseased. Preliminary tests indicated the buck was CWD-positive, and the final results confirm the buck was infected with CWD, which always is fatal to deer and elk.
The buck was within Disease Management Area 3 (DMA 3), which was established in 2014 after surveillance by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture detected CWD at two captive deer facilities in Jefferson County.
Because this buck was located near the center of the 350-square-mile DMA 3, the DMA will not need to expand.
However, the Game Commission is immediately taking steps to increase CWD surveillance within DMA 3.
The Game Commission will be allocating Deer Management Assistance Program permits within DMA 3. Each hunter can purchase up to two of the 2,800 DMAP permits anywhere hunting licenses are sold by requesting permits for Unit 3045.
The permits will become available very soon, likely by July 13.
These DMAP permits can be used to take antlerless deer on public and private lands within DMA 3 during any established deer season. Hunters must acquire permission from private landowners prior to hunting.
Harvest data from DMAP permits will augment CWD surveillance.
All known road-killed deer within DMA 3, and a portion of the deer harvested by hunters, already are tested each year for the disease. The Game Commission is looking to increase this sampling effort and obtain more-precise harvest-location information. Cooperation from hunters will be an important first step to make this happen.
The Game Commission also plans to use sharpshooters in DMA 3, in a small, focal area where the CWD-positive deer was found, in hopes of stopping the disease before it has a chance to grow and spread.
In Pennsylvania, CWD has been an increasing threat. The disease also exists among wild deer in the area of southcentral Pennsylvania defined as Disease Management Area 2. Twenty-five free-ranging deer tested positive for CWD during 2016. And an additional four CWD-positive deer have been detected since, raising to 51 the total of CWD-positives detected within the DMA 2 since 2012.
While the spread of CWD within Pennsylvania is a concern statewide and a threat to the state’s deer and its deer-hunting tradition, this latest CWD-positive within DMA 3 is a concern also because of its proximity to Pennsylvania’s elk range, which abuts DMA 3. More than 100 elk are tested for CWD each year and, thus far, the disease has not been detected among the state’s elk.
“There is no vaccine to prevent deer or elk from contracting CWD, and there’s no treatment to cure infected animals,” said Game Commission wildlife-management director Wayne Laroche. “However, if we can remove the infected animals from this area so they are no longer coming in contact with healthy deer or shedding the prion that causes the disease, we may be able to slow its spread and minimize its effects on deer and elk, and the people who enjoy them.
“It’s important our response is as effective and efficient as possible to attempt to curtail this disease before it becomes well-established in an area where it not only is a threat to our deer, but also our elk,” Laroche said.
While CWD poses a serious threat to Pennsylvania’s deer and elk, there is no strong evidence it can be transmitted to humans. As a precaution, however, hunters are advised not to eat the meat from animals known to be infected with CWD, or believed to be diseased.
There already is a prohibition on removing the high-risk parts of harvested deer from any DMA. Hunters who harvest deer and take it to a meat processor or taxidermist within a DMA are making certain that deer are available to the Game Commission for CWD surveillance.
Laroche said cooperating deer hunters within DMA 3 will play a key role in the CWD surveillance to take place there. If the harvest locations of sampled deer are known, it will be possible to more precisely target management actions, he said.
It doesn’t cost anything to drop deer heads off for sampling, and if a sample tests positive, the hunter will be notified.
Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said it’s important to respond quickly and directly to the serious threat CWD represents. Response measures in areas where CWD is known to be present improve the chances of limiting the disease to a few areas as opposed to many, he said.
“For the sake of our deer and elk, and their importance to hunters and nonhunters alike, we must do all we can to control this threat in the Commonwealth,” Burhans said.

July 2017 Hunter Safety Course Now Registering!

Our Next course will be Offered on Saturday July 29th from 8AM to 4:30 PM. You may register for the class here.


Sanctioned By
PA Game Commission

All Hunter Education classes MUST be registered for online 
Click Here To Register for July 2017 basic class

These Classes are FREE, but you must pre-register.Space is limitedPlease register early!

Bull Creek Rod and Gun Club's Hunter-Trapper Education classes are held twice a year, in early spring and mid summer. Our last class was held in March, 2017. Classes are taught by 4 or 5 certified instructors who are both Bull Creek club members and trained by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Plus, volunteers from the club and community assist the instructors with presentations offered in:
  • History of Hunter-Trapper Education in Pa.
  • Knowledge of sporting arms, ammunition, and traps.
  • Safe handling of sporting arms and trapping equipment
  • Wildlife Conservation and Management
  • Wildlife Identification
  • Hunting and trapping laws
  • Hunter-Trapper/Landowner relations and ethics
  • Safe Clothing
  • Outdoor Safety (Emergency first aid and survival)
  • Field care of game
  • Game Law presentation by Game Commission Officers
  • Range Instruction
  • Walk through shoot/don't shoot course
  • Archery Demonstration
  • Tree Stand Demonstration
Eligibility: Student must be 11 years of age or higher to register and receive a training certificate. You MUST have completed this mandatory training and have reached at least 12 years of age to hunt in Pennsylvania.

Call 1-800-243-8519 to reach the Southwest Region Office in Ligonier, PA, for other
class schedules near you.

Read a testimonial: