Deer must weather both storms and CWD

It is precisely for habitat conditions such as we are experiencing now with the prolonged, cold, snow and ice that seasons, antlerless allocations and habitat needs are so carefully calculated.

Deer are having a tough time of it right now, trying to find enough to eat and cover to keep sheltered.

Ice means they slip, break bones and split pelvises and die a lingering death. Starvation will probably take a good number of whitetails this year and free-running dogs will account for the deaths of many hungry, exhausted deer that cannot outrun them in this kind of snow and ice conditions.

When weather is extreme, the largest, strongest animals eat first; they will kick away any lesser animal that tries to encroach on “their” territory. If there is anything left when the big buck is finished, then the small and young may eat. Turkeys will fare better. They have the ability to stay in the trees for days at a time, eating nothing, if need be.

Unfortunately, to add to the stress are the various maladies afflicting our wildlife at this time. Aside from the usual incidents of rabies, we are all aware of the horrid Chronic Wasting Disease spreading throughout our deer herd, especially in this area. It has been confirmed that a road-killed deer found Christmas Eve in Bedford County and then examined, did indeed have CWD.

There are two DMAs in Pennsylvania, which are intended in part to contain and slow the spread of CWD. And Blair County is the heart of one of the Disease Management Areas. The buck that tested positive Dec. 24 was killed in DMA 2, a 900-square-mile area that includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Cambria and Huntingdon counties. More precisely, the site where the buck was killed is between two sites where CWD was detected last year, so this new positive shouldn’t change the shape or size of the DMA.

This is the first case of CWD detected in Pennsylvania this year, but not all of the samples collected this year have been tested. The Game Commission targeted collecting and testing 1,000 samples within in each DMA, as well as 3,000 samples from additional deer statewide.

CWD is not a new disease, and other states have decades of experience dealing with CWD in the wild. CWD is spread from deer to deer through direct and indirect contact. The disease attacks the brains of infected deer, elk and moose, and will eventually result in the death of the infected animal.

There is no live test for CWD and no known cure. There also is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans; however, it is recommended the meat of infected animals not be consumed. But if you cannot consume it, why hunt it here is what many hunters decided last season.

And at one of the main Pheasant Game Farms in Pennsylvania a deadly strain of Cholera was found and so the birds from that farm were not stocked this after Christmas season.

The strain diagnosed at Loyalsock Game Farm last week is considered by veterinarians to be a mild strain with relatively low levels of daily mortality. Following detection, Game Commission staff consulted animal and wildlife health experts at Penn State and elsewhere, who advised treating the infected flock with antibiotics prior to a subsequent release.

The antibiotic treatments have proven effective and daily mortality of birds has decreased to baseline levels in the flock, but given the risk that some surviving birds could remain carriers of the bacteria causing the disease, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has reconsidered its earlier decision and chosen to abandon plans to release the pheasants.

Probably a wise decision in light of the severe weather conditions that the stocked birds would have faced upon release.

Propagation is a significant investment, funded in large part by revenues from the sale of hunting and furtaker licenses, he said. And it’s frustrating when that end product can’t be given back to hunters, he said.

“In this case, however, we felt we had to cut our losses and minimize the risk to wildlife populations,” Carl Roe, director of the Game Commission said.

Roe said even the slight chance a released bird could continue to carry the disease is a risk Game Commission staff currently is unwilling to take.

The quarantined flock will be euthanized using carbon-dioxide chambers and disposed of by deep burial on the farm. “As always, we will be taking the appropriate biosecurity steps to ensure a clean facility,” he said.

Rodents and mammalian predators are suspected bacterium sources in this outbreak and we will be reviewing and upgrading our disease vector control protocols, as well as our other biosecurity protocols and standards.

Located northeast of Williamsport, the Loyalsock Game Farm provides pheasants for release in Wildlife Management Units open to either-sex pheasant hunting. The 2,400 birds placed under quarantine had been slated for release Dec. 20 in Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Clearfield, Cumberland, Franklin, Lehigh, Monroe and Montgomery counties.

Even without those pheasants, the Game Commission has surpassed its goal of releasing 200,000 pheasants statewide this year. About 218,000 birds have been released this year.