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Money will be factor in dealing with deer disease in Pa.

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

Money may ultimately determine how the Pennsylvania Game Commission responds to the discovery last week of chronic wasting disease in the state's wild deer herd.

Cal DuBrock, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management, said during a news conference Monday in Harrisburg that, prior to last fall, the cost of disease surveillance had been running about $200,000 annually. The commission was paying about $130,000 of that; the rest was covered by federal dollars.

After a captive deer on an Adams County farm tested positive for wasting disease in October, though, the commission set up a 400-square-mile “disease management area” and stepped up monitoring efforts.

That drove the cost of looking for CWD to $400,000. The commission had to foot the entire bill. Federal money for CWD monitoring has “gone away,” DuBrock said.

Now, wasting disease has spread to the state's wild deer herd.

The agency confirmed Friday that three deer taken by hunters during the two-week firearms deer season tested positive for the disease. One was an adult buck from Frankstown Township in Blair County; another was an adult doe from Freedom Township, also in Blair. The third was a 1 12-year-old buck from South Woodbury Township in Bedford County.

The hunters who shot the deer said all appeared healthy when encountered, said Brad Myers, director of the commission's southcentral region office.

“They said there was no indication these deer had anything wrong with them,” Myers said.

The commission has also been in touch with the commercial processors who butchered the deer. Two have been identified for certain; work to figure out who the third was is ongoing, Myers said. Conservation officers are trying to find out from them where the high-risk parts from each deer – brains and lymph nodes that harbor the disease — ended up.

In the meantime, a new disease management area almost certainly will be established, DuBrock said. Hunters and deer farmers will probably be restricted in terms of their ability to move deer and high-risk deer parts in and out of the region. Rules allowing people to keep road-killed deer also may be suspended.

The commission will increase testing in the Blair and Bedford areas, and will try to examine hunter-killed deer and roadkills. But all of that work “is pretty expensive,” DuBrock added.

Whether the commission can afford to continue the intensive testing in Adams and York counties, while replicating it in Blair and Bedford, is a question that can't yet be answered, he said.

“Can we continue to spend in the area of $300,000 to $500,000 in each disease management area to do surveillance? We're really going to have to take a hard look at that,” DuBrock said.

What the commission decides may ultimately hinge on what it hopes to achieve. No state with the possible exception of New York has ever gotten rid of wasting disease once it's been found within its borders, DuBrock said. The commission must decide if its goal to is to “determine the prevalence on the landscape as opposed to stopping it.”

“At this point, there are a lot of questions and a lot of speculation, but we don't have a lot of answers,” DuBrock said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors

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