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By RICHARD TATE
Herald Outdoor Sports Columnist 

Pa. Game Commission Updates Chronic Wasting Disease Plan

 
Series: CWD | Story 2


The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) hosted a webinar on Monday, July 27, that presented the updated Chronic Wasting Disease Plan that was presented to the Board of Game Commissioners on Saturday, July 25.

Andrea Korman, the game commission’s CWD biologist, presented an overview of the new plan. She noted that the two main goals of the plan are to minimize the impacts of CWD in deer and elk, and to increase stakeholders’ understanding of the plan.

Korman said that the PGC hopes to reduce human-related activities that amplify and spread CWD. The commission hopes to maintain CWD prevalence at 5 percent where CWD presently exists. One method of keeping the prevalence low is to minimize movement of high-risk parts of deer from the four Disease Management Areas (DMAs) to areas where CWD does not exist.

Within the DMAs, smaller units have been established. One is called an Enhanced Surveillance Unit (ESU), which will be used to determine the extent of CWD in area where CWD has been newly detected. In these areas increased use of DMAP deer harvest coupons will be a management option. The other type of zone, called a Containment Zone (CZ), is much smaller and is designed to prevent the spread of CWD by using targeted shooting of deer. Questions about targeted shooting revealed that targeted shooting would be limited to small areas of approximately three square miles instead of larger areas and that landowner cooperation would be necessary for the targeted shooting to be effective. Game Commission officials were hopeful that more landowner cooperation could be gained than was gotten previously. The plan stresses that targeted removal will occur in the CZs only. During questions later in the program, Brian Burhans, Executive Director of the PGC, answered that based on other states’ results, targeted shooting has proven to be necessary because hunters have been unable to remove enough deer from infected areas.

Additional management strategies include restricting the movement of high-risk deer parts from DMAs, the banning of feeding deer in DMAs, and the banning of natural urine-based deer attractants, policies that are already in effect.

Korman stressed that hunters would be “put first” in combatting CWD. Hunters will experience concurrent buck and doe seasons and additional extended seasons in some areas. To increase the harvest and to lower deer numbers, increased numbers of antlerless licenses will be sold in the DMAs.

Continued surveillance of harvested deer is important. Head collection bins of harvested deer will continue to be used, road-killed deer will continue to be examined, and all harvested elk, which have never showed CWD, will continue to be tested. Statistically, a total of 477 free-ranging deer have tested positive for CWD since 1998.

Continued Use Of Surveys

Korman said that the commission plans to continue to use surveys, conduct focus groups, and to solicit public comments in its battle to combat CWD. In the past year the commission received a total of 885 comments from individuals and organizations concerning its CWD plan.

Korman concluded her portion of the presentation by saying, “Without action, CWD will continue to increase. The PGC is making a long-term commitment in its effort to combat CWD. It needs the support from its stakeholders (hunters), and the PGC will need to use adaptive management as time goes on.”

Nick Pinizzotto of the National Deer Alliance spoke next. He said that work concerning CWD is being conducted nationally. He said that there is no chance to manage CWD without hunters’ cooperation. He said that his group fully supports the PGC’s plan and that the PGC is a first-class team that is working hard to communicate to hunters and to include hunters in its CWD Plan.

Kip Adams of the Quality Deer Management Association said that the PGC is clearly a national leader in CWD research and management. He said his pride in the PGC’s use of science in developing its plan and engaging hunters whose support is necessary for the plan’s success. He said that the battle against CWD is not a “lost cause” and that the PGC and hunters must be proactive to mitigate the effects of CWD.

Viewers’ Questions

Following Korman’s presentation and Pinnizotto’s and Adams’ comments, several webinar viewers asked questions. One regarded the size of CZs, where targeted shooting may be done only with landowner cooperation. Korman stressed that the size of a CZ is to be small, about 3 square miles. Chris Rosenberry, the former “deer czar,” added that this plan is different from the one that was proposed for Blair and Bedford counties in that the previous targeted shooting plan was a “research plan” but that the new plan for CZ targeted shooting is a management plan. He, too, acknowledged that targeted shooting cannot occur on private land without the permission of landowners.

Burhans said that a major focus of the new CWD Plan is outreach and education in an effort to gain support for the PGC’s plan.

Michele Gibison, who is involved in the laboratory testing of deer for CWD, said that the goal is to shorten the turnaround time to seven to 10 days for a hunter to receive his results from the 10 to 21 days that it has taken previously. She said that some labs have been upgraded for in-house testing to facilitate the quicker turnaround time but that the COVID-19 pandemic has put some research on hold. She said that work is being done to gain additional state funding.

A questioner noted that research on captive deer herds has shown some genetic resistance to CWD from captive deer and wondered if this research is pertinent to wild deer. Pinizzotto and Adams noted that this research has not proved effective on wild deer. Burhans added that this research does not show a lot of promise for wild deer.

The presentation demonstrated that the PGC is working to combat CWD and that the commission realizes that it must enlist the support of sportsmen if its updated CWD Plan is to be effective.

 

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