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Sportsmen upset with agriculture's lack of transparency

| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 9:46 p.m.

There is finally some good news on the chronic wasting disease front.

Test results for Pink 23, a captive deer from the Adams County farm where CWD was first found in Pennsylvania, have come back negative. That was a concern. The deer was on the loose in the wild for weeks after escaping from inside a fence, and many worried it might be spreading the disease.

Purple 4, a captive deer that escaped from an unlicensed farm in Huntingdon County under quarantine for its connection to the Adams County facility, has likewise been killed. Tests are being done, but no results have been announced.

In the bigger picture, hunters don't believe they're getting enough news of any kind, good or bad, on a consistent basis from Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs — the state's largest sportsmen's organization — sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary George Greig on Nov. 27 that takes the department to task for a “lack of timely and informative communications.”

“It leads to questions of whether the agency is doing its due diligence to investigate and manage the potential risks associated with current and future cervid farming practices and how it all relates to the potential risks to the wild cervid populations,” reads the letter, signed by Federation president Chuck Lombaerde.

The letter urges the agency to be more “transparent” and “forthright.” Others apparently want the same thing.

Kathy Davis of Speers, a volunteer with the Quality Deer Management Association and other groups, earlier filed requests under the state's Right to Know Law in an attempt to learn more about the department's investigation. Message boards have likewise been full of complaints from hunters upset with the agriculture department's perceived failings, such as not revealing the escapes of Pink 23 and Purple 4 until confronted by the media and public.

The result is the Federation's letter, which includes 16 questions, ranging from how many staff people are working on the wasting disease investigation to whether plans to share information “in a more timely and accurate manner” have been developed.

No answers have been offered. When asked, agriculture spokeswoman Samantha Elliott Krepps said, “We are reviewing the letter and responding to the PA Federation of Sportsmen's Club. It is not fair to respond to these questions to you without giving the federation those answers first.”

She did not say when answers might be coming. The federation would clearly like them soon.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.

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