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Frye: Is Pennsylvania on verge of chronic wasting disaster?

| Saturday, March 11, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials have said for years they want to get a handle on chronic wasting disease while they can.

Might it be too late, or nearly so?

In states like West Virginia and Wisconsin, CWD kind of percolated for a while, then exploded, said Wayne Laroche, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management. There might be some early signs of that happening here, he added.

Forty-seven wild CWD-positive deer were found in the state since 2012. Twenty-five turned up in 2016.

“This is an exponential curve,” Laroche said. “It's not prevalence. It's just the number of animals. But it's not a good sign.”

All that's with test results from nearly 3,900 hunter-killed whitetails and several road kills — the prime source of sick deer to date — still pending.

That's scary, admitted commission executive director Matt Hough.

“Unless effective control measures can be found, we expect that the number of infected deer will continue to grow exponentially,” he said.

One “control measure” the commission has been talking about for two winters is targeted shooting.

Laroche said previously he would like to go into the core area for the disease in wild Pennsylvania deer — namely 11 townships within Bedford and Blair counties in disease management area 2 — and do some targeted removal. That means taking out family groups of deer using sharpshooters hunting over bait at night.

The idea, he said, is to limit the spread of disease.

Game commissioner Dave Putnam wants to get moving on that.

“We may still have an opportunity to contain this disease to some extent, the prevalence of it,” Putnam said. “My two cents is to get on it as fast as we can.”

The agency apparently is going to take that advice.

Laroche said he's met with sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about doing some targeted removal before the end of March. The hope, he said, is to try it on a small scale and work out how the commission will shoot deer, how and where it will store them while testing is done, how it will dispose of any deer that turn out to be CWD-positive, and how it will distribute those that don't to food banks.

“We're moving forward,” Laroche said. “It's a lot slower than we'd like it to be. But we're moving.”

In the meantime, commissioners announced in January they likely won't offer disease management area 2 permits this fall, saying they were too much a “broad-scale approach.”

Instead, they're encouraging landowners in the 11 townships to take additional antlerless deer using the deer management assistance program.

They might also create doe tags good for those townships alone, to allow those who have permission to hunt locally to remove a few extra deer.

“I'd like to see that happen this year,” said board president Brian Hoover of Delaware County. “I think that's going to help us a lot.”

Bob Frye is the Tribune-Review outdoors editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or bfrye@tribweb.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.

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