Deer culling to be delayed

After meeting with the state Game Commission on Monday on behalf of his constituents, state Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, announced Monday that the commission has agreed to delay its plan for culling deer in a large portion of Blair and Bedford counties.

“Speaking for my constituents, hunters, landowners and farmers, I expressed extreme concerns about the Game Commission’s proposal to eliminate more than half of the 4,000-5,000 deer in our region in reaction to reported cases of chronic wasting disease,” a statement from Gregory read.

For a study to determine whether lower deer numbers can control Chronic Wasting Disease, the commission had hired USDA wildlife sharpshooters to decrease the deer population potentially by a couple thousand within a 100-square mile area of Blair and Bedford counties known to hunters as Deer Management Assistance Program 2874. Targeted removal of deer was to occur from February through April.

“We worked together with the Game Commission and succeeded in getting a delay on the culling in order to give all stakeholders, especially those who passionately want a solution, a chance to be heard and engaged in the solution,” Gregory’s statement read.

He encourages hunters in his 80th House District to make their voices heard by contacting the Game Commission.

“To be clear, this is not a win for anyone who is concerned about this issue as the ultimate problem of chronic wasting disease is not going away. However, we need to look at other alternatives to radical depopulation of the herds,” Gregory said in a statement.

Positive results for the fatal and highly contagious brain disease in free-ranging deer doubled for four consecutive years in Pennsylvania. In 2013, there were two cases, and in 2017, there were 76. All together there have been about 170 positive tests since 2012, and a majority were in Blair and Bedford counties, according to data from the commission.

There may not be a threshold population below which the disease cannot persist, but the commission is hopeful that a smaller herd will keep the disease from spreading locally as well as to other portions of the state.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn’t believe that it has enough landowner cooperation to perform the cull, spokesman Bert Einodshofer said.

But he said the number of deer with Chronic Wasting Disease is at a critical mass. He said that as of last year, the commission estimated state’s deer population with the disease was more than 3 percent.

“The state is at a crossroads. We have to do something,” Einodshofer said. “Hunters need to cooperate and realize this disease is not going away.”

During the last hunting season, wildlife management tags were offered so that hunters were allowed to shoot additional doe in the DMAP 2874 last season.

But those tags were thrown away, Einodshofer said, because people wanted to keep the deer around.

Last season’s harvest has not been tabulated. It will be complete in a few weeks. But there’s a remote chance it has made a significant decrease from the 4,000-5,000 pre-season count, which is why USDA wildlife shooters have been requesting access to private land.

Einodshofer said now that the sharpshooters have been turned away, he hopes hunters will respond to the call to decrease the deer population to 2,500 themselves in the upcoming deer season by using all tags available and allowing hunters onto private property.

Between the deer tags that come with the regular purchase of a license and the additional wildlife management tags available for the area, hunters have the ability to kill one buck and up to four doe. Einodshofer said he does not know whether the commission would increase the number of tags this season. He also said that although keeping deer season open longer could help decrease the population, that is not popular with hunters, a recent survey indicated.

Although the cull has been delayed, Einodshofer said the phase of the study that entails collaring deer and tracking them with GPS will continue.

The commission may schedule public meetings in the future to discuss the issue of reducing the population to the 2,500 threshold.

“I know Representative Gregory, Representative Judy Ward and others have been receiving a ton of phone calls,” Einodshofer said.

Gregory’s meeting Monday included a representative from the Pennsylvania Game Commission as well as Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York, chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, and Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford.

“I’m encouraging hunters in the 80th District to make their voices heard by contacting the Game Commission,” Gregory said.

“I look forward to being a part of this conversation and solution moving forward.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.

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