Oh, deer: More talk important

Many area landowners and hunters remain angry about the method the Pennsylvania Game Commission would prefer to use to try to halt — or at least greatly slow — the spread of chronic wasting disease in the state’s deer population.

The commission wants to employ U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife shooters to bait and kill a couple thousand deer — approximately half of the deer population — in an approximately 100-square-mile area comprising parts of Blair and Bedford counties.

However, those angry landowners and hunters are no doubt feeling somewhat better now, because of the commission’s decision to delay indefinitely the start of the deer-culling initiative, in response to the heated opposition with which the plan has been met.

But the realities of the situation remain: The hope behind the plan is that that drastic step will help answer whether existence of a smaller deer population can help control the highly contagious, neurodegenerative brain disease for which there is no known cure.

Additionally, it is hoped that better insight might be gained regarding the real prevalence of the disease here. It can’t be said conclusively that afflicted-deer statistics already compiled for the geographical area in question provide an accurate picture of what really exists.

No scientifically tested way has been found for controlling the disease, which also affects elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Beyond the now-delayed plan, there’s the reality that Pennsylvania is one of 26 states where chronic wasting disease has been found.

That means that, even if this state were to achieve some success by way of the announced plan — if it were carried out eventually — that progress in curbing the disease could be undermined by diseased deer crossing into Pennsylvania from neighboring states.

Meanwhile, although there is no evidence now that human consumption of meat from an infected deer might have eventual health implications, the possibility of CWD-related health problems in humans at some time in the future cannot be ruled out absolutely, considering the limited understanding of the disease that currently exists.

There is nothing wrong with landowners and hunters having voiced their opinions, and others should not be reluctant to join the conversation. Meanwhile, state Rep. Jim Gregory, R-80th, was correct in taking the lead to encourage the Game Commission to open up more dialogue before giving any go-ahead for the culling to actually begin.

Many hunters fear that killing so many deer — especially since no proof exists that the action will achieve its intended well-meaning result — will make whitetails too difficult to find during the coming hunting seasons.

All of that said, commonwealth residents would do well to consider the words of Bert Einodshofer, information supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s south-central region:

“We would be remiss as an agency if we sat back and did nothing to find out which and what methods are best at slowing the spread of this fatal disease.”

Proponents and opponents of the culling operation alike need to consider all that’s at stake now and going forward — for hunters, non-hunters who enjoy eating deer meat, the best interests of the state in general and the healthy survival of the deer population.

The new decision on behalf of much more discussion — including possibly public meetings — is the right decision.

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