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Outdoors notebook: Scientists think elk may adapt to CWD

| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

There has been a lot of worry in recent years about how chronic wasting disease could potentially devastate populations of deer and elk.

That's with good reason. The disease has spread rapidly in the past five years. Once confined to the West, it has now been identified in 22 states and Canadian provinces. There is no way to test for the disease on live animals and no way to cure those that get it. No one has found a way to stop its spread, either.

Some new research indicates there might be cause for at least a little hope, though.

A 10-year study published in the online journal Ecosphere found that elk populations could be — over the long haul — able to better battle the disease than previously thought.

Researchers studied 39 infected female elk calves in Wyoming. All died. But they determined that some elk were “inherently more resilient,” meaning it took longer for them to come down with CWD once exposed to it.

What that means, they said, is that as infected animals die out, those with more resistance to CWD will dominate and reduce the disease's potential to crash populations.

That won't happen overnight, though. Terry Kreeger, one of the study's authors, was quoted as telling the Wyoming Game and Fish Department the “genetic shift” would take place over several decades.

Award winners

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania announced the winners of its 2014 environmental and conservation awards.

High school seniors Allison Jo Vogrig of Canonsburg and Daniel Robinson of Allison Park were named Beulah Frey Environmental Scholarship winners. Each got money to help pursue studies in environmentally related fields.

Dana Hadley and Courtney Williams from Seneca Valley School District were honored as Betty Abbott Excellence In Teaching award winners.

Phipps Conservatory was presented with a Trustee Award “in recognition of outstanding effort to further the cause of conservation” statewide, and Meg Scanlon from Latodami Nature Center in North Park was given the W. E. Clyde Todd Award for furthering the cause of conservation on an individual level.

Action plan

A big concern in the sporting community in recent years has centered around how to get more people back into hunting and shooting.

An attempt to find a large-scale solution is afoot.

A “National Hunting and Shooting Sports Action Plan” is under development. The Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports is coordinating the project with help from the Wildlife Management Institute. It is bringing leaders together from industry, wildlife agencies, conservation groups and elsewhere to document the threats to hunting and shooting sports recruitment, retention and reactivation, and devise potential strategies for addressing them.

The group formed in January. Its goal is to have a plan by September.

Instructors sought

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is seeking veteran hunters and trappers willing to serve as general hunter-trapper education instructors and/or to teach specialized classes, namely the agency's successful bowhunting, furtaking and turkey hunting courses.

Would-be instructors “should be knowledgeable, experienced hunters and trappers” willing to teach at least one class per year. All candidates have to take and pass a course and undergo a background check. Information is available at pgc.state.pa.us or by calling 717-787-7015.

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

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