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Spreading deer disease taxing, too

Hunters have been persistent in their opinion that culling is not the answer to eradicating chronic wasting disease from the deer, elk and moose populations, and a meeting of Pennsylvania Game Commission representatives, lawmakers and hunters on March 7 in Blair County did not change that thinking.

Hunters continue to believe science and research are the best means for finally putting an end to the affliction, which is 100 percent fatal.

While the commission doesn’t dispute that, it embraces the belief that something significant must be done in the meantime to prevent a much worse situation in the deer herd than what currently exists.

Last year, the commission revealed a plan to reduce the deer herd in identified CWD areas of Blair and Bedford counties by up to 2,500 through the use of sharpshooters, but that plan was scuttled by opposition from hunters and landowners in the two counties.

At the March 7 meeting, Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans revealed that the commission hasn’t given up on that plan. He said the commission is hoping to implement it next year, if the commission can succeed in gaining landowner support — which still seems unlikely.

But the fact remains that a vaccine or cure remains elusive, with no evidence available yet that the federal Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission Study Act, co-sponsored by 13th District Congressman John Joyce last year, has made much progress in achieving its intended result.

With the nation’s attention focused foremost on the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, CWD research is far from the most pressing item on the nation’s agenda — and that won’t change for the foreseeable future, due to the way COVID-19 has been spreading.

But some people who long have been watching developments on the CWD front and who can’t now ignore the volley of bad news regarding the coronavirus might be puzzled over this question:

Do opponents of culling, which is aimed at “making space” within the deer population and, thus, hopefully slowing spread of the disease, really harbor confidence that what’s being termed “social distancing” will be a successful weapon against COVID-19?

The area group Sportsmen for the Future believes culling merely will decimate the deer population but do nothing to stop the spread of the disease.

Time will tell whether business and school closings, recreational cutbacks and people consistently keeping a distance from one another during their daily comings and goings will be successful in halting COVID-19’s deadly rampage anytime soon.

“With higher deer populations, you get longer dispersal, and with lower deer populations you get shorter dispersal,” the Game Commission’s Burhans said. “Dispersal is important because we want to slow the spread of this disease right now with the technology we currently have in hand.”

As Gov. Tom Wolf pointed out on Monday when he extended a shutdown order to the entire commonwealth, “medical experts believe it’s the only way we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients.”

Individuals — sportsmen and non-sportsmen alike — need to be fearful about whether someday there might be a CWD mutation that spreads the disease to other wildlife.

This region then is witnessing two distinct “theaters” of warfare close up, with the issue of distance central to both.

Getting far away from either “battlefield” appears unlikely anytime soon. Meanwhile, unproductive meetings and flawed plans of action only add to already-present anxiety and/or fear.

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