Hunting rules to tighten

Deer hunters across a swath of Blair and Bedford counties can expect tightened regulations this year, as Game Commission officials plan a local “disease management area” to stanch the spread of chronic wasting disease.

In a Monday afternoon press conference at the commission’s Harrisburg office, state wildlife officials said the three Pennsylvania deer that tested positive for the disease were killed in Freedom and Frankstown townships in Blair County and South Woodbury Township in Bedford County.

The Mirror reported that chronic wasting disease was found in the three deer in Saturday’s paper.

As the first areas in Pennsylvania to detect the deadly, contagious illness in the wild, Blair and Bedford counties could be subject to hunting rules similar to those established last fall in York and Adams counties.

“There could be, and likely will be, restrictions in place,” Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management Director Calvin DuBrock said Monday.

Last year, after Adams County deer-farm operators found the illness – which destroys’ the animals brains and results in certain death – hunters from Gettysburg to the Susquehanna River were ordered to submit their kills for testing. Deer parts considered particularly contagious, including heads and spines, can’t be taken from the area, and certain items used to lure deer to an area, such as food and urine, are forbidden.

“We really need a lot of cooperation from landowners and hunters out there [in Blair and Bedford counties],” DuBrock said.

Commission officials

didn’t detail the range of the new management area or the extent of planned restrictions. Further testing will guide their decisions, DuBrock said.

Over the weekend, Game Commission officers tracked down the hunters who killed the sick deer during the fall rifle season. All three said the animals appeared healthy, Commission Regional Director Brad Myers noted. In each case, they were taken to butcher shops and likely eaten.

There’s no evidence that chronic wasting disease affects humans, even from eating the meat of sick animals, Game Commission officers stressed. Of thousands of local deer tested since hunting season, only those three carried the illness, they said.

It’s still unclear how the illness reached the Altoona area. A map displayed at the press conference indicated that Morrisons Cove – where one diseased deer was shot – is within the roaming range of a young deer from upstate Maryland, where chronic wasting disease has been recorded.

State Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Mathew A. Meals acknowledged that a sick deer could have escaped from a local breeding farm undetected, though there’s no public evidence to support the possibility.

The only deer possibly exposed to chronic wasting disease and known to have escaped locally, identified as “Purple 4” for its tag ID, was killed last year after fleeing a Huntingdon County farm. It had lived previously at Freedom Whitetails near East Freedom.

Tests later revealed that deer was not infected, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The precise locations of the sickened deer were a matter of some confusion Monday. DuBrock said two of the animals were shot in Blair and Taylor townships, but Myers identified the sites as Freedom and Frankstown townships. Hard-to-identify municipal borders are behind the discrepancy, Myers said.

Officials have said public meetings are planned for later this month in southern Blair County, near the outbreak’s epicenter.

Government plans, originally based on monitoring and prevention, will now embrace disease containment and management, DuBrock said Monday.

“No state has managed to eliminate it,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.