Protest over deer culling canceled

Game commission hopes to resume targeted shooting next year

A hunters’ protest of the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been canceled because the commission promised to halt its targeted shooting of deer for a year.

Matt Johnson of Roaring Spring had scheduled a protest at the steps of the Blair County Courthouse and expected about 200 people to attend. He said he canceled it because the hunters and landowners achieved what they wanted with the help

of Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg. Gregory and the game commission announced the delay Monday.

A press release from the state game commission followed Tuesday.

“The Pennsylvania Game Commission has not received the necessary support from landowners in Bedford and Blair counties to move forward with plans to reduce the deer population in a 100-square-mile area as part of a pilot project on chronic wasting disease,” the press release stated.

The commission had originally hired USDA sharpshooters to cull the deer herd to 2,500 in the study area, which could mean the killing of a few thousand deer from February through April.

That targeted removal was for a pilot study to see if lower deer populations can control chronic wasting disease.

Although the commission is delaying the targeted shooting, it hopes to resume it next year:

“It’s hoped that, by next year, increased awareness about CWD and the threat the disease poses to deer and elk statewide will bring about the support necessary locally to begin the phase of the project that has been put on hold,” the commission’s press release stated.

Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Bert Einodshofer also sought to dispel falsehoods masquerading as facts on social media Tuesday.

He said there is a photo of deer heads being thrown into a dumpster that is circulating on social media with the false information that the deer were killed by the commission.

“Zero deer have been taken,” Einodshofer said.

The photo circulating is of road-killed deer that have been tested for CWD, he said.

Live deer cannot be tested for the brain disease.

Game Commission data shows that the percent of deer infected with CWD in the Blair-Bedford study area is at about 3 percent and is following the same pattern seen in Wisconsin, where the disease spread to 25 percent of deer in 15 years’ time.

There is no known cure or scientifically tested way to control CWD.

However, the commission’s choice to cull deer in an attempt to control the prevalency of the disease is supported by evidence that the method worked in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Oddly, people on both sides of the issue in Pennsylvania point to Wisconsin as evidence to support their differing arguments. Hunters say targeted removal of deer didn’t work in Wisconsin, but the commission uses Wisconsin to show that targeted removal does work.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Spokeswoman Tami Ryan emailed the Mirror with information about why the state’s targeted removal was seen as both a success and a failure.

“We conducted targeted removal between 2002 and 2007,” she wrote. “In areas where our department targeted efforts, more deer were removed by us, and then by hunters in those areas. … More CWD positive deer were removed. During this timeframe, we also did start to see a downward trend in deer population estimates.”

A 2013 study by researchers of the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, states that Wisconsin government’s culling concluded in 2007 and the average annual increase of the disease was maintained at 0.63 percent for five years after the cull.

“The perceptions about it ‘not working’ in Wisconsin are generally a reflection of the fact that our targeted removal ceased after this time-frame due to loss of public support as well as our increasing trends in distribution and prevalence,” Ryan stated.

Johnson indicated hunters in Blair County do not want to take the chance of drastically reducing the deer population.

Despite the delay, he is still unsatisfied that the commission remains set on reducing the population to 2,500 in DMAP Unit 2784.

“Hunters don’t want to kill the deer off,” Johnson said. “The battle isn’t over.”

However, he said the commission’s delay of the planned cull is encouraging.

“In a way, I’m satisfied,” he said. “I’m satisfied they got the sharpshooters out of here.”

John Camerer, a taxidermist in Roaring Spring, said the deer population is already so low that he believes the tradition is in jeopardy.

Camerer said he hopes for ways to cure the disease without culling.

“Hunters don’t want the kill because without deer in the woods, the next generation is no longer going to hunt,” he said.

“When I was a youngster, what made me the hunter I am was the hope that tomorrow I’d see a buck,” Camerer said. “Our heritage is going to be over.”

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