The Keystone State is looking for hunter input on their CWD response plan.
Pennsylvania is trying to get ahead of chronic wasting disease and they're looking for hunter input on their plans.
CWD is an always fatal disease similar to mad cow disease. It affects members of the cervid family like deer, elk and moose. The spread of CWD has been slow, but steady, expanding to 26 states, three Canadian provinces and several other locations worldwide.
The disease spreads in wild deer through prions that like to hide out in the brains and lymph nodes of deer. That's why many states have restrictions on moving certain carcass parts like deer heads to unaffected areas.
Since the first infected deer was discovered in 2012, Pennsylvania has seen a little over 250 animals test positive for the disease.
From now until Feb. 29, PennLive reports the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be accepting public comments on their new CWD management plan, which is online for everyone to read. The news organization reports that hundreds of comments have already been submitted.
This is the first of two public comment periods the Game Commission will be holding to gather deer hunter input. The next will be held in April. The idea is to present this plan and some regulation changes to the board for approval before the next deer season begins.
So, what do the commission's plans mean for deer hunting? Well, for starters they may extend the length of hunting season and increase the numbers of antlerless tags.
Hunters would also be given first crack at extra tags every time a CWD-positive deer is discovered in a new area. New discoveries would also result in what are being called "CWD control units."
However, these units could also see targeted removals of deer if the hunters fail to hit objectives set by the state.
Currently, Pennsylvania has four disease management areas for the disease. The two largest ones are clustered in the south-central part of the state. Most discoveries have been in or around Bedford and Fulton Counties. Pennsylvania does have antler point restrictions, but the draft plans suggest the possibility of removing them entirely for these DMAs.
The size of these existing DMAs could also increase. The state has already banned the import of what they consider "high-risk parts" from deer, elk and moose from the other infected states and Canadian provinces where the disease has been found.
Because the disease has been found in many captive deer herds, they may also place mandatory CWD testing on all animals that die in such facilities and additional sampling of live animals each year.
Anytime CWD is discussed, deer feeding bans also come into play. Under the draft plan, feeding would be illegal in DWA areas. The use of natural urine-based deer attractants would also be illegal.
These types of bans are slightly newer in most states. It's not known if the disease can be spread through these types of attractants, but it seems most wildlife management agencies aren't taking any chances with them.
The Game Commission would conduct also random testing for the disease through the cooperation of meat processors across the state to identify new cases of CWD before they can spread.
Through all of this, Pennsylvania officials have been observing actions taken in other CWD-positive states. Most notably, it appears they want to emulate aggressive, targeted removal and management programs Illinois, New York and Minnesota have.
Such programs have shown a decrease in infection rates over time from when the disease is first discovered. They are trying to avoid the struggles endured by states like West Virginia and Wisconsin. The latter of those two states has basically been ground zero for the greater battle against CWD.
If you would like to leave your thoughts on Pennsylvania's draft CWD management plans, read more at the Pennsylvania Game Commission's website. You can also provide feedback through their comment forms there.