State to offer 13K extra doe permits

By Ryan Brown

In a bid to cull the local deer population and slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is set to issue 13,000 extra doe permits in Blair, Bedford and parts of some neighboring counties.

The new round of permits, added to the tens of thousands of licenses already set to be distributed this year for the standard deer season, will cover the Disease Management Area that comprises a swath of central Pennsylvania, commission officials said in a news release.

By cutting the local deer population – hopefully by one per square mile, according to officials – hunters would leave the animals more spread out and therefore less likely to spread the disease, which is always fatal to deer, elk and moose.

Pennsylvania’s first wild cases of the brain disease were detected last year in the woods of Blair and Bedford counties. While there is no evidence chronic wasting disease affects humans, it can ravage deer populations.

Commission officials said the new permits would pinpoint hunters’ added attention to the affected area while leaving populations in the rest of the state at their current levels. The Disease Management Area covers most of Bedford and Blair counties, as well as parts of Fulton, Huntingdon and Cambria counties.

“We hope the creation of this permit will better help to satisfy objectives of addressing the deer population within the [area] and outside it,” commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said in the release.

The move to allow extra doe hunting is a shift from commission leaders’ prior comments.

In April, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that commission staff ruled out additional permits in time for the 2014-15 hunting season.

“We didn’t think as of that April meeting that we could do it this year,” commission Press Secretary Travis Lau said Monday. By offering the permits through a different online system, however, the commission managed to make them available sooner than expected, he said.

In addition to the newly offered doe permits, the Game Commission is set to offer thousands of normal licenses in the disease-affected area. Wildlife Management Unit 4A, which covers parts of Bedford and Blair counties and comprises most of the disease area, features 28,000 standard doe licenses for the coming season.

While that number is the same as last year, the season’s length is set to change: While antlerless deer could be hunted for the full two weeks of rifle season last year, they are now set to remain available for only a week.

The changes in local rules and talk of a population cull creation some discussion in an April commission meeting, the Patriot-News reported at the time, with some officials questioning the usefulness of decimating the central Pennsylvania population to prevent chronic wasting disease’s seemingly inevitable spread.

The commission is set to use the new permits to collect data on the disease. Each permit-holder must submit a report whether they kill a deer or not, commission leaders noted in the news release.

“Through their reports, hunters provide valuable data that plays a crucial role in the Game Commission’s management of CWD,” they said.

On Monday, Lau said he’s confident, but not certain, that the new permits will sell out by fall. Standard doe licenses sold out statewide last year, he noted.

“We’ll wait and see,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.