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Public input sought on CWD management

One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is, “You are entitled to your own opinion; you are not entitled to your own facts.”

As someone who for many years has been paid to express my opinions, I’ve always felt a deep obligation to investigate and understand the facts of an issue and objectively look at all sides of it before forming an opinion. During my long career as an outdoor communicator, I’ve debated and expressed my opinion on just about every issue that has come along.

Sometimes, I’ve been amazed at the amount of emotion or misinformation my fellow hunters and anglers cling to when framing their opinions on so many important matters. But no problem in my recollection has evoked the amount of misguided emotional response, misinformation, made-up facts and even outright ignorance as the management and response to chronic wasting disease.

CWD first was detected in Pennsylvania in 2012. Every year since then, incidents of CWD have spread and infection rates get worse. Currently, more than 8,000 square miles of the state are designated as part of three active Disease Management Areas (DMAs). Within these DMAs, regulations make it unlawful to feed deer or to use or possess urine-based deer attractants. Deer harvested within a DMA may not be transported out of the DMA unless certain high-risk carcass parts are removed first.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently released a draft of its new Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan. This proposed plan summarizes the agency’s objectives regarding CWD management and what actions will be taken to achieve them. In areas where CWD has been detected, some potential actions to curtail the spread of the disease include expanding deer seasons, removing antler restrictions and increasing antlerless deer permit allocations.

The plan emphasizes using hunting as the primary factor to achieve disease-management objectives, but if those goals aren’t reached by hunting, small-scale targeted removal of deer could be conducted post-season in parts of CWD areas where necessary. Of course, a planned targeted removal earlier this year in this area using so-called professional sharpshooters was canceled because of backlash from a handful of vocal protesters and the interference of local politicians.

In order to garner public support for the proposed CWD management plan, the Game Commission will be accepting public comments on the plan through Feb. 29, 2020. Those comments will be considered in the adoption of a final plan, which will be implemented for the 2020-21 hunting seasons. The plan can be viewed on the Game Commission website, www.pgc.pa.gov.

On the left side of the homepage, click on the “Chronic Wasting Disease” link under Quick Clicks. On the Chronic Wasting Disease page, click on the “Proposed Response Plan; comment until 2/29/20” link. On the CWD Response Plan page, you’ll find links to the complete draft of the proposed CWD response plan, a two-page summary of the plan and a comment form that can be submitted electronically or printed, then mailed.

I encourage anyone who cares about the future of white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania to read the proposed CWD Response Plan and submit informed comments regarding it, the operative word there being “informed.” There is a wealth of information regarding CWD on the Chronic Wasting Disease page of the Game Commission website. On the right side of the page under “Resources,” check out “Captive Cervid Breeding Fact Sheet” by The Wildlife Society. Also click on the link to “CWD Updates.” That page is also full of great information. Check out “Wisconsin’s World of CWD” by Patrick Durkin and “Missing the Point on CWD” by Courtney Colley. Colley’s article was originally published in the “Game News” back in June and addresses many of the most common myths and misconceptions regarding CWD. It is one of the most informative pieces I’ve seen on CWD.

I will share some of my personal thoughts about the proposed CWD Response Plan later, but I was somewhat shocked by the lack of any meaningful strategy regarding captive deer and elk facilities. Just one paragraph that includes this weak statement: “While the Pennsylvania Game Commission has no regulatory authority over captive cervid facilities, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will continue to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA; who regulates the captive cervid industry) to create solutions that protect the deer and elk of Pennsylvania.”

Really? Captive deer and elk facilities were the way CWD came to Pennsylvania in the first place and continue to be a major factor in the spread of the disease to more than 17 percent of the state so far. Somebody better start regulating them. Sixteen deer farms in Pennsylvania have tested positive for CWD and eight of them still have live animals on the premises. And there is really no way to regulate the deer farms because there is no way to test live animals for CWD. Do we want to risk decimating our wild deer herd so a few individuals can have a bunch of pet deer?

Finally, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been hosting a series of events around the state to inform the public about CWD. One is scheduled in Blair County for this Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 6 p.m. at the Hollidaysburg High School, 1510 Montgomery Street, Hollidaysburg. A 30-minute presentation will discuss what the public can do to help prevent the spread of CWD, followed by a question and answer session. For more information, please contact the Southcentral Region Office at 814-643-1831.

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