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Frye: New permit to address deer wasting disease

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 10:16 p.m.

Well, that didn't take long.

Last Tuesday, Pennsylvania game commissioners shortened the antlerless deer season in wildlife management unit 4A and slashed the number of doe licenses to be available. The goal was to increase the deer herd by 20 percent.

By Thursday, commission staff came up with a way to reverse that, at least across most of the unit, and, they believe, save more deer in the long term.

And everyone's claiming victory.

Unit 4A takes in much of Bedford County and parts of several others around it. It has been, according to commissioner Tim Layton of Windber, a hot spot for complaints from hunters who want more deer. It's also home to what's known as disease management area two, the one place in the state where wasting disease, or CWD, has been found in the wild deer herd.

Commission biologists wanted to reduce the deer herd there ever so slightly, by one animal per square mile, to slow the disease's spread.

The board went the other way. In finalizing seasons for 2014-15, commissioners went from offering two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting to a split season, with five days of buck-only hunting followed by seven days of buck and doe hunting. They simultaneously slashed the number of doe licenses from the 42,000 recommended by their biologists to 28,000.

Hunters will have the chance to kill as many deer as ever, though.

In a move that will be announced perhaps as early as this week, the commission is going to offer 14,000 “DMA 2 antlerless deer permits.”

Created by executive order, they are not doe licenses in that they can't be used throughout the entirety of unit 4A. They can only be used within the disease area.

But — with those boundaries expected to expand east and south soon to include 83.55 percent of the unit — they will be legal across most of the unit, commission spokesman Travis Lau said.

The decision to offer the permits came about after senior agency staff sat down mid-week to figure out “what we can do to fix this,” executive director Matt Hough said.

“Our idea is to harvest deer in the (disease area) and keep the herd down to control CWD,” Hough said. “I don't think anyone has any expectation that we're going to get rid of it. But I think we need to do everything we can to slow it down.”

Layton said that's what he wanted.

“That's what we were really trying to do was focus hunters on the (disease area) rather than the entire wildlife management unit. So it worked,” Layton said.

That's not to say everyone is on the same page now or was in the past. Layton said he's been talking about a DMA-specific doe tag since January. Hough said he's unaware of any such discussions involving staff.

There's some disagreement on one detail of how the permits can be used, too. Hunters with a disease permit can use them throughout the two-week firearms deer season so long as they stay within the boundaries of the disease management area, Hough said. Hunters with a regular doe license for unit 4A won't be allowed to hunt antlerless deer until deer season's first Saturday.

Layton said that's a “little bit troubling,” but is willing to live with it.

“Right now we need to get the permits out and not haggle over the details,” Layton 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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