Science vs. emotion part of CWD

Apparently, the fear of harvesting a diseased deer did not hamper the deer harvest last deer season since the Game Commission reports a harvest that was the overall highest in the last 14 years.

Despite a really rotten weather day on opening day, every deer hunter’s nightmare — steady, pouring rain — the harvest statewide, including all seasons was that hunters bagged 374,690 deer during the 2018-2019 season.

Management Area 4D had a harvest of 8,300 antlered deer which was down from 10,600 in the 2018 season, no doubt because of the awful opening day. In DMA 2D, where I hunt deer, 14,700deer were harvested .

As you well know by now, exactly what to do about the state’s really terrible problem of CWD is still unsolved with emotions running high on the subject. Nobody wants snipers coming in and implementing a mass slaughter of deer, but keeping diseased deer alive to spread the disease wholesale seems not to be a good idea either.

In the end and, as usual, the controversy boils down to emotion versus scientific evidence of what inevitably must be done. As we trudge on arguing and studying, the problem spreads and gets worse.

In the meantime, as I have been on a number of deer spotting forays, the deer I’m seeing look healthy and hardy, but I’m just looking through binoculars from a distance. Those who will be walking the woods looking for deer corpses will tell the story.

Now we have learned that the CWD area has extended into the Pennsylvania Elk range. A deer infected with CWD was discovered on a hunting preserve and that is all it took for the alarm to be sounded!

Other CWD deer were found after last season’s deer season so the already existing areas will no doubt be also expanded.

This is a crisis for every hunter and hunting-agency concerned. After all, whitetail deer are the most popular game species across America. In our state, the financial benefit of deer hunting cannot be overestimated. For the deer population to crash, as it will if CWD goes unchecked, will mean a lot of revenue lost to the state and practically put the Game Commission out of business.

There has been a rumor for as long as I can remember that the Game Commission has always been looking for ways to get rid of deer in this state. It’s a preposterous theory. It would be like killing the golden goose. Without the whitetail, the state’s hunting revenue would drop sharply, leading to layoffs, and severe damage to the revenues of hunting-related businesses. As popular as turkey hunting has become in Pennsylvania, I doubt that it could take up the slack of the loss of deer hunting.

CWD was first found in Pennsylvania in 2012 at a fenced facility in Adams County. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered in Bedford, Blair and Cambria counties and other parts of the state.

We are told that quite a number of deer expired this last winter from pneumonia. Winter mortality is just a natural part of nature’s cycles in the woods. Casualties like these provide the means of saving the lives of animals such as coyotes, crows, eagles, foxes and others.

The key to winter survival is being able to have enough food and cover to survive. It is habitat improvement projects that now capture the workings of various Special Interest conservation groups. It is vital that wildlife be able to reach natural food, above the snow and ice cover that restricts the creatures as happened this past winter. More than throwing out corn and other things in the snow is the necessity to enhance the habitat with seed and fruit bearing trees and shrubs.

The assessment of suitable habitat is made by deciding what will be available in the bad winter, not in what is there during the summer.

Even as wild turkeys are caught up in their spring rituals right now, foxes and coyotes, snakes and crows are waiting in the wings, keeping watch over the whole process, looking for their opportunity to have a turkey for lunch.

They will pilfer the eggs from a hen’s nest once they start laying. They are looking for winter-weakened birds and finding some extends their own lives. It all sounds gruesome, but in the wilds, there are no clinics to go to if you are sick or injured. You simply become the next meal for some other creature.


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