First, the Pennsylvania Game Commission changed the time periods when hunters in this region are allowed to go after bucks and does.
Now, the spread of a disease that could decimate the herd is dictating how hunters must handle success.
In March the commission decided to split the deer season into bucks-first, then antlerless days for Wildlife Management Unit 5A, which includes portions of Cumberland, Adams, Franklin and York counties.
With Chronic Wasting Disease creeping eastward in southern Pennsylvania, deer hunters in WMU5A will also be adhering to restrictions.
Last spring, after 12 white-tailed deer in the Blair/Fulton county area tested positive for CWD in 2015, the Game Commission decided on targeted removal of deer in order to stop the spread of the lethal disease.
This nuclear option (my term) is to take out deer family groups, sick and well animals, in order to eradicate all potential sources of the scourge in CWD hotspots.
This past March, shooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture targeted and removed 30 deer from Fulton County. From those, they found one deer that tested positive.
The commission tried to gain further control of CWD by expanding the Disease Management Area (DMA2) and its restrictions in all or parts of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties.
The disease was also found in a handful of farm-raised deer and triggered two other DMAs in the state.
CWD first showed up at a deer farm in Adams County in 2012, establishing DMA1.
This week we learned that another 25 wild deer tested positive for CWD in 2016, in or near DMA2. That more than doubles the number of diseased deer found in DMA2, to a total of 47. It was also noted that an infected deer was found in a captive herd in Franklin County.
Of deer that tested positive, 13 were road-killed, 10 taken by hunters and two showed signs consistent with CWD.
Concern for the herd is heightened by the additional fact that three more animals on deer farms tested positive for CWD in late 2016 and early 2017 in Bedford, Fulton and Franklin counties. It was the first detections of CWD-positive captive deer within DMA 2.
Since 2002, the commission has tested over 61,000 deer for CWD. The latest 25 CWD-positives in wild deer were part of 1,652 deer samples collected within DMA 2 during 2016.
With this latest spread of the disease, the commission says that the nuclear option is back on the table for DMA2. Groups of deer where CWD is prevalent could be targeted again.
The commission is also planning to expand DMA2 further.
Disease doesn’t respect county lines or artificial DMA borders. How long until this ground zero of CWD in wild deer extends beyond boundaries and grows into an area too large to imagine or manage is anyone’s fear.
It stands to reason that simply expanding the management area does more to control the disease than it does eradicate it.
Expanding the boundaries of a disease management area for CWD can be done by executive order and the commission expects it to happen in a matter of weeks.
The specifics have not been laid out, but word is, the expansion of DMA2 will have a significant effect on hunters in WMU5A.
The commission says that DMA2 and all the white-tailed deer restrictions that go with it, will be extended eastward from Fulton, across Franklin County, and into Adams County to the western border of DMA1 at Gettysburg. It isn’t clear how far north or into Cumberland County the new DMA2 may extend. Most of the southern half of Wildlife Management Unit 5A is expected to be included.
Within DMAs, special regulations are in place to reduce the risk of CWD spreading to other areas. These regulations include restrictions on transporting deer carcasses and where successful hunters can take their deer for processing. Feeding deer and the use of urine-based deer lures are forbidden.
The eastern border of DMA2 runs north from the Maryland State Line on Route 456 to the intersection of Route 16, then to Route 522 to Route 30, then north on Route 655.
DMA1 extends north from Gettysburg on Route 34 to Idaville Road, to Route 94 and east on Latimore Road to Mountain Road to Dillsburg and Route 15; north on Route 15 to Yellow Breeches Creek and northeast along the Yellow Breeches bank to I-76 and east to the intersection of the Susquehanna River. From there the border goes south to Route 30 and west to Route 116 toward Hanover. In Hanover it goes southwest on Route 194 to Littlestown, then northwest on Route 97 to Gettysburg.
If there is any good news amid the latest tragic findings, the Game Commission says it plans to eliminate DMA1 and its restrictions, as there hasn’t been a positive result there in five years.
As for further treatments for CWD’s ground zero in the wild herd, the commission says it may also expand its Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) into DMA2 hotspots so that more deer may be taken there. DMAP allows landowners to issue extra antlerless deer permits to hunters.
When considering what is best for the whole deer population in Pennsylvania, the commission has tough decisions to make. Especially when it means going beyond simply trying to contain the disease and going out and targeting numbers of animals.
Those who hunt and otherwise care about white-tailed deer should expect the Game Commission to live up to its mission “to manage Pennsylvania’s wild birds, wild mammals, and their habitats for current and future generations.”
However tough the CWD decisions might be.
More information about CWD in Pennsylvania can be found on the Game Commission website, www.pgc.pa.gov.