EDITORIAL: Combine forces to fight deer-threatening diseases

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Logo deer

State Game Commission officials have been responding in recent days to dozens of reports of dead deer throughout central Pennsylvania — an issue that is neither unique nor limited to the Keystone State.

The cases were reported primarily in northern Chester and southern Berks counties. Local officials are awaiting lab results to determine the cause of death but suspect the culprit is something called epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). The often-fatal virus, which infects the white-tailed deer population, is no stranger to the state. Indeed, it is found nationwide.

If EHD is confirmed, it won’t be the only health threat faced by the state’s deer population.

Game Commission officials have been traveling the state to warn the public about Chronic Wasting Disease.

CWD, as it is called, was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2002. It continues to spread rapidly.

Among the Game Commission’s tools for combating the infectious disease has been the creation of several Deer Management Areas, the most recent of which encompasses parts of Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks counites. (A map of all designated areas and other information about CWD can be found on the commission’s website.)

It’s important for hunters and others to be aware of these areas, as well as rules for hunters and others operating within them. For example, it’s illegal to feed deer within DMAs. Hunters are prohibited from transporting deer harvested within a DMA to outside areas, and urine-based attractants are off limits.

There are economic, as well as recreational and health-focused reasons for limiting spread of the disease.

Rep. Marcia Hahn, R-Northampton, who hosted a recent roundtable on CWD in East Allen Township, pointed out that hunting is a $1.6 billion industry in Pennsylvania.

“We want to make sure that we keep hunters happy, for one, (and) that we can keep the economy going,” she said at the forum, according to leighvalleylive.com. “It generates a lot of tax revenue for us and helps the state.”

Pennsylvania isn’t alone when it comes to trying to quell the spread of CWD. Neighboring states including Ohio, New York, Maryland and West Virginia are also fighting the scourge.

That’s why a regional effort, along the lines of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, should be explored.

It’s not like states are operating in their own bubbles; Pennsylvania law already outlaws bringing harvested deer into the state from New York, Ohio, Maryland or West Virginia. (Although, as with deer harvested in in-state DMAs, portions of the deer can be transported if they are not from high-risk parts of the carcass, primarily the head and spinal column.)

The 2014 watershed agreement brought together Pennsylvania, five other states and the District of Columbia in a joint effort that has been credited for improving water quality in Chesapeake Bay. Similarly combining forces to manage and mitigate deer-threatening diseases could likewise strengthen hunting and related economic conditions in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. And coordinating policies among states could simplify compliance for hunters.

In the meantime, Pennsylvania officials are urging hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts to assist in monitoring the problems. The Game Commission is encouraging residents to call 610-926-3136 to report dead, sick or injured deer. And it has CWD information sessions planned for Sept. 26 in Shippensburg; Sept. 27 in Brockway, Jefferson County; and Oct. 18 in Denver, Lancaster County. Details are available on the commission’s website, www.pgc.pa.gov.

With deer-hunting season about to begin there is no better time for state hunters to review policies regarding CWD and related issues. And no better time for game officials in Pennsylvania and neighboring states to explore ways to coordinate efforts to subdue CWD to the benefit of the region’s hunting population.