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Game Commission sets doe tag allocation

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 7:33 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Don't call it a surrender.

That's what Pennsylvania Game Commissioners said Tuesday when they adopted deer seasons that will, according to their wildlife management staff, likely accelerate the spread of disease in part of the state.

The board on Tuesday allocated doe licenses for each of the state's 23 wildlife management units for the 2014-15 seasons. In most cases, they offered less than their biologists recommended.

One unit stood out, though.

Unit 4A takes in much of Bedford County and parts of Blair, Huntingdon, Fulton and Franklin counties. It's also part of disease management area 2, one of two places in the state where chronic wasting disease has been confirmed.

Three wild deer with the always-fatal disease were found there last fall. Two more turned up in the past few months.

Another CWD-positive deer was found in Maryland this past fall, six miles south of the Bedford line. A seventh deer, a 5-year-old whitetail on a deer farm in Reynoldsville, Jefferson County, tested positive, officials with the Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday.

Commission biologists are considering increasing the size of the disease area to include all of unit 4A. In the meantime, to contain CWD, they recommended commissioners lower the deer herd in the unit by one deer per square mile.

Instead, commissioners shorted doe season in the unit from 12 to seven days and slashed the number of deer licenses from 42,000 to 28,000, all while promising to develop a system for directing hunters to the disease area sometime down the line.

Commissioner Tim Layton of Windber made those recommendations. He said he did so believing that CWD eventually will show up in enough places that “the disease management area is going to be the state of Pennsylvania” and that hunters are going to keep hunting deer regardless.

That doesn't mean he is surrendered to the inevitability of the disease's continued presence or spread, he said.

“I'm comfortable with what we did,” Layton said.

Commissioner Brian Hoover of Delaware County also defended the changes, saying hunters in unit 4A “want more deer on the landscape” and this will give it to them.

It will certainly do that, agreed Cal DuBrock, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management. His prediction is the unit's deer herd will “grow substantially.”

Almost as assuredly, it will also allow CWD to spread over a larger part of the unit in the future, he added.

“This is an area where the public is going to ask this board, ask this staff, are you serious about managing CWD,” DuBrock said.

Layton said he is, and wants to promote harvest of deer from disease areas by developing doe tags specific to them, perhaps by this fall.

That's not going to happen.

Matt Hough, executive director of the commission, said it takes at least six months to change the automated system used to sell hunting licenses. There's no way it can be tweaked by the time licenses go on sale on June 9, he said.

“We've already missed the deadline for this year,” added Rich Palmer, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife protection.

So the herd will grow in the disease area while the commission debates what to do, said commissioner Ralph Martone of New Castle.

“My concern is the CWD at this point,” he 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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