External: supporting the fight against fatal deer disease - News - Ellwood City Ledger

If there's an argument for getting the Pennsylvania hunters in turmoil, it's the white-tailed deer. Whether it's population numbers, seasons or hunting methods, there are passionate voices on both sides. Hunters, sportsmen and environmentalists are the people who have been and should be the voice for science-based wildlife management, but unfortunately, like much of today's society, it has fallen off the rails.

The hunt for Sunday and the Saturday opening proposed for the general season of deer are two points of contention. I just have to shake my head when I hear these arguments against the proposals: "they will kill all the deer", "the insurance companies are behind this" and "the Game Commission hates the hunters". Heck, there are still people out there who believe the gaming commission has supplied the coyotes in Pennsylvania to reduce the deer population!

Another topic that has deer hunters in arms is chronic wasting disease (CWD), a contagious neurological disease that affects members of the deer family, including deer and elk in Pennsylvania. Causes a degeneration of the brain of infected animals resulting in deterioration, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.

The exact cause of CWD is unknown, but the most accepted theory is that the agent is a prion, an abnormal form of cellular protein most commonly found in the central nervous system and lymphoid tissue. There is also an ongoing study on a type of bacterium that could be the causative agent.

Whatever the cause, CWD is here in Pennsylvania and present in our wild deer population. The fifty-one deer collected by hunters during the 2017-18 seasons of Pennsylvania was positive for CWD; this was over 1,000 deer tested.

The Counties of Bedford and Blair in the central-southern part of the state are the hot spots of the disease, and while the Gaming Commission has taken measures to control the spread of CWD, more needs to be done.

The Game Commission would move to the next level to combat the spread of CWD by breaking down to 2000 deer in the areas of greatest infection. Measures quite drastic but probably necessary for a disease that is always fatal. For both good and bad, due to the resistance of landowners and hunters, the harvest was canceled.

"The Pennsylvania Game Commission did not receive the necessary support from the landowners of the Bedford and Blair counties to pursue plans to reduce the population of cervids in a 100-square-mile area as part of a pilot project on chronic disease from decay, "a recent press release from the commission said. "Reducing deer numbers was part of a strategy to reduce the effect and spread of CWD."

It does not take much effort to find some really extravagant and invented statements on the Internet about CWD. Several high profile personalities have preached that the whole issue is invented or inflated to excess to the detriment of hunters. Pennsylvania hunters are joining to fight the Gaming Commission efforts to contain the disease.

I found very little of what was said to be based on science and facts. It is based on emotion, both love for deer and deer hunting, and distrust of the gaming commission.

The effort to stop chronic wasting disease requires our total support if we enhance the deer and our deer hunting tradition. The Pennsylvania Game Commission and wildlife biologists deserve our support.

Mike Barcaskey can be reached at mikebarcaskey@outlook.com.

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