Deer removal plan has hunters up in arms

(AP photo)

A growing problem in the deer population is forcing the state game commission to take drastic measures.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is looking to cut the population in southern Blair and northern Bedford counties down to between 2,000-2,500 to combat Chronic wasting disease. Hunters were given the first chance to help with the issuance of more licenses, but the remaining does and bucks will be removed with the help of sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Team.

While final numbers are still up in the air, based on the previous year’s estimate that the region has between 4,000-5,000 deer that would mean the elimination of roughly 2,000 deer between hunters and the USDA.

Chronic wasting disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose, according to the Center for Disease Control. It may take over a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss, stumbling, listlessness and other neurological symptoms.

CWD is always fatal and there are no treatments or vaccines, according to the CDC. Since first being discovered in Colorado in the late 1960’s, cases of CWD have been discovered in 24 states.

However, the method of using a large-scale elimination plan has many hunters taking aim at the game commission over concerns about the future of the deer population.

Matt Johnson has already seen his Roaring Spring neighbors allow nets to be set up in their yards, with landowner approval, so deer to can be trapped and tracked by the Game Commission and the USDA.

“It's going to effect us majorly,” Johnson said. “I see license sales going down, a big majority in this whole region.”

Bert Einodshofer, Information and Education Supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission Southcentral Region, said he understands the concerns, but there is no ‘magic bullet’ that works to eradicate the disease. He’s seen CWD quickly spread across the commonwealth since first being discovered here in 2012.

“It's pretty much doubled in size almost every year,” Einodshofer said. “Up to this point we have been in a monitoring phase.”

After doing studies and seeing the number of deer impacted growing, the game commission is now taking the big step.

“We've authorized the additional deer tags to be issued to hunters to allow them to harvest more deer in those area,” Einodshofer said. “If the deer population is (still) assessed to be too high at that point than a targeted removal operation will come in.”

“You're going to be lucky to see a deer (after the removal operation,)” Johnson said. “There's no doubt about it.”

Johnson has raised his concerns with others in the hunting community who have had similar worries.

“Mother nature would make way more sense than that. Just leave it alone,” said Jay Gregory, a long time host of ‘The Wild Outdoors’ on Outdoor Channel.

Gregory said he’s seen other states try and he said fail to reduce the spread of CWD with similar reduction programs.

“They're going to kill 2,000 deer on the off chance that they are right but they have no proof that they are,” Gregory said. “It's so mind blowing to everybody that they try these same ways of doing things and it just makes no sense.”

Gregory said he also does not believe the disease is always fatal. He said there is a possibility that deer are already adapting immunities.

“How do we know they aren't immune to it and can pass that genetic along?” Gregory said. “You just go in and wipe them out.”

“I would like to see them do more testing for a cure like stuff to put in the ground and minerals.”

The game commission admits the results elsewhere have been mixed.

“The state of Illinois for an example has used this method and kept their prevalancy rates to about 2 percent while other states have gone up to 30 percent of their infected area being positive,” Einodshofer said.

But the game commission also believes doing nothing is not the answer.

“We just can't sit here and watch it,” said Christopher Rosenberry, Deer & Elk Section Supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission Southcentral Region. “We need to take action and the action we're looking to take is really the best option.”

The Southcentral Region office is right now doing a final round up of what hunters harvested in the two-county area. The USDA Wildlife Services Team will then come in February or March to start killing the deer needed to get the population within the goal levels.

The commission says a local deer processor was notified that it could receive up to several thousand deer for processing. Those found to have CWD will be further tested and those that don't will be processed and their meat will be distributed to cooperating landowners and through Hunters Sharing the Harvest to local food banks.

"If it has been verified in some way that deer are starving, sick, and suffering and that this assessment is not just an exercise in convenience, then euthanasia via sharpshooters—and never by shooting steel arrows into them—is fair enough," said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. "But remember that the population of deer grows only because of hunter-controlled 'game-management' agencies, whose goal is to manipulate habitat and hunting seasons in order to increase the number of living targets, rather than allowing deer to control their own population and thereby stay healthy, as nature has equipped them to do."

Chronic Wasting Disease has no known effects on humans, though the World Health Organization recommends that you do not eat meat from an infected cervidae.

To learn more about the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s plans, you can click here to view their information on their website.

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