ROARING SPRING - Deer hunters in a wide swath of Blair, Bedford and neighboring counties will face strict limits this year to stem the spread of chronic wasting disease, state game officials said at a meeting Wednesday.
With archery season weeks away, Game Commission officers told dozens of hunters at Spring Cove Middle School that they must keep high-risk deer parts inside a Disease Management Area spanning much of Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon and Cambria counties. Those who don't adhere to the rules - intended to slow a disease that ravages deer and elk populations - could face citations and fines, officials said.
"We think we can slow it. And that's why we're asking for you help, your cooperation," Game Commission Regional Director Brad Myers said Wednesday.
Commission directors hope to test 1,000 locally killed deer, and thousands more statewide, after the deadly disease was found in three Morrisons Cove-area deer shot last year. Chronic wasting disease attacks animals' brains, causing certain death; while it's not believed to affect humans, authorities have recommended avoiding possibly infected meat.
The disease can massacre deer herds: 10 years after it spread to Wisconsin, game officers said, in some areas it can be found in nearly one-fourth of the adult male population. It's exceedingly resilient, surviving in infected soil for years, and there is no known cure.
Hoping to slow its almost certain spread here, the Game Commission has banned the removal of high-risk deer parts - the head, spine, spleen and any part in contact with brain matter - from the management area.
This season, both local hunters and visitors traveling to the region will face fines if they're found outside the quarantine with local high-risk parts, Myers and Game Commission Wildlife Management Director Cal DuBrock told a scattered crowd of hunters at the middle-school auditorium.
The only exception, they said, is for those taking well-protected samples to state research centers for voluntary testing. Officials are avoiding the expensive mandatory testing employed last year in Adams and York counties, instead allowing hunters to take deer to state-approved processors and taxidermists at their leisure.
Hunters who see sickly deer in the wild can kill them and turn them in to authorities, as well, and receive a fresh tag for their efforts, Myers said.
"But we don't want a vigilante force killing every sick deer they see," DuBrock cautioned after the meeting.
Deer-urine-based lures and most deer feeding will be forbidden, as well, officers said.
As for outsiders who carry deer parts away from the management area, ignorance of the law will be no excuse, DuBrock said. Officials are set to send warning letters to 100,000 licensed hunters in west-central Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Despite the raft of new rules, Myers said he doubts the illness will keep locals from taking up guns and bows this season. A case in point: Three local hunters, told this year that their kills were infected with the gruesome disease, said they'd still rather eat their meat than turn it over for disposal, Myers recalled.
"This is a hunting culture," he said. "Everyone here grew up hunting."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.