The Pennsylvania Game Commission has created a new executive-level position to direct its ongoing and intensifying efforts to limit the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild white-tailed deer and neutralize its threat to wild elk.
Wayne A. Laroche, who has served as the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Management director for the past two years, will be appointed Aug. 1 to Special Assistant for CWD Response, a new position. In his new capacity, Laroche will lead the Game Commission’s efforts to slow CWD’s spread and minimize its impacts on whitetails and elk.
The hiring was announced Wednesday in a news release from the Game Commission.
Efforts will begin immediately to hire a new director for the Bureau of Wildlife Management, which is responsible for managing the state’s 480 species of wild birds and mammals, including 60 game animals and furbearers.
Laroche, over the past two years, has taken the lead on managing Pennsylvania’s sporadic and smoldering CWD problem in wild deer populations, deploying a variety of measures designed to assess CWD’s prevalence and limit its spread in areas where it has been found.
“Because I’ve spent so much of my time on Pennsylvania’s CWD problem, and now that it’s flared up in wild deer within the state’s interior, it makes perfect sense for the Game Commission to devote even more resources to fighting this disease,” Laroche said in a news release. “Whitetails and elk are incredibly important to Pennsylvania. Imagine where conservation and tourism would be without them.”
On July 13, the Game Commission announced a free-ranging whitetail buck in Bell Township, Clearfield County, had tested positive for CWD. It was found in Disease Management Area 3, which includes parts of Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. It marked the first time the disease was documented in free-ranging deer in an area of the state where it previously had been detected in only captive deer.
CWD also exists among wild deer in the area of southcentral Pennsylvania defined as Disease Management Area 2. Twenty-five free-ranging deer tested positive for CWD during 2016. And an additional four CWD-positive deer have been detected since, raising to 51 the total of CWD-positives detected within the DMA 2 since 2012.
Although the Game Commission has worked aggressively to limit CWD’s spread by establishing DMAs in central Pennsylvania, the disease continues to advance within these DMAs.
“Our response to Pennsylvania’s growing CWD threat must stop this disease,” Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said in the news release. “There’s too much at stake to consider any other alternative.”
Widespread loss of whitetails could cripple conservation and greatly reduce the millions of dollars hunters spend in Pennsylvania annually.
“Wayne Laroche is a conservation veteran who already has worked diligently on Pennsylvania’s evolving CWD plan, and his new position centers his focus on CWD,” Burhans said in the news release. “I expect him to hit the ground running in his new role.”
Laroche directed the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife from 2003 to 2011 and has served on many state, regional and international committees that manage wildlife collaboratively. He earned his bachelor’s in wildlife management from the University of Maine, School of Forestry, and received his master’s in natural resources, from the Humboldt State University School of Natural Resources in Arcata, California.
Information for this story was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.