PA Game Commission to consider new hunting policies aimed at limiting the spread of chronic wasting disease

Celebrating Seniors

CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA, (WTAJ)–Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) continues to be a concern for both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and deer/elk hunters.

Recently, the PA Game Commission announced some potential plans for new hunting policies that look to slow the spread of the disease.

WTAJ looked into different options the PA Game Commission is considering, and how Central PA hunters feel about these drafted policies. The story is below.

Chronic Wasting Disease is currently incurable for deer, elk, and moose who are guaranteed to die as a result of the disease. Scientists believe CWD is spread between animals through body fluids including: saliva, blood, or urine. It’s believed the disease can spread through direct contact or indirect contact with these fluids (including through contamination of soil, food, or water).

Given the multiple methods in which the disease could spread and the fact that there is no cure for CWD, the PA Game Commission is looking to change hunting policies in hopes of preventing animals from contracting the disease.

They’re considering a State-Wide ban on:

  • Feeding deer, including using minerals or supplements.
  • Possessing and using deer attractants like natural urine or synthetics.

“A hunter has attractants in their tool box to lure-in bucks… it’s gonna impact archery hunters pretty substantially,” said Rodney Swope Jr., local hunter and vice president of Sportsman for the Future in South-Central PA.

But Swope Jr. said he also understands the goal of these potential policies: limiting how often deer interact.

“They’re a social animal. The Game Commission doesn’t want one deer licking the scent and then another doing the same. I know they don’t want the deer to congregate, hence they want to ban spots where they’ll get together due to human feeding or hunters using attracting smells,” he said.

The areas in red on the map below are considered CWD management areas, where the disease is most prevalent in PA.

In the red regions above (which take up all or portions of Blair, Huntingdon, Bedford, Somerset, Fulton, Cambria, Clearfield, and Jefferson Counties) the PA Game Commission is considering:

  • Increasing hunting opportunities
  • Removing deer antler point restrictions–allowing more male deer to be shot.

Further reinforcing their goal to increase hunting opportunities, Swope Jr. said in area 4A on the map above, tag allocations have risen from 28,0000 to 49,000 this season.

Swope Jr. also spoke to why he feels the PA Game Commission is removing antler point restrictions.

“The Game Commission thinks it’s gonna help because basically now a hunter’s not gonna have to look and see if a deer has three antlers on one side. If they see horns they can shoot it,” he said.

He added that some “trophy hunters” seeking more antler points are against this proposed policy.

“They want the bigger bucks, and to let the spikes and two points go another year so they can get bigger,” he said.

In the release below the PA Game Commission said if hunters cannot reduce the deer population to reach “disease-management objectives”, the Game Commission may target and shoot deer on a small-scale in certain areas.

WTAJ reached out to the PA Game Commission for clarification on potential “disease-management objectives” but has yet to hear back from a representative.

It’s this possible targeted removal of deer that Swope Jr. strongly opposes.

“I am 100% against target removals,” he said.

He added: “I’m not for them taking hundreds of healthy animals just to get a few diseased animals.”

As mentioned, Swope Jr. is vice president of Sportsman for the Future a group that was formed in South Central PA after the PA Game Commission planned the targeted removal of deer in the South Central PA.

Swope Jr. said in 2019, the Game Commission originally planned to shoot between 2,000 and 2,500 deer in southern Blair County and northern Bedford County .

The Game Commission’s plan was halted by state and federal lawmakers who were approached by Sportsman for the Future along with other groups of hunters. Local politicians decided to allow hunters to curb the spread of the disease.

But Swope Jr. said targeted removal by the PA Game Commission is once again a possibility this year.

“I’m not sure in our area if we can get it stopped,” he said. “It’s gonna have a big impact on hunters and the economy. Last year they said they had a higher hunter turnout, but long-term if they continue targeted removals, and lower the deer populations across the state, our younger hunters aren’t going to want to participate and older generations of hunters are just gonna give up,” Swope Jr. said.

Several weeks ago, a meeting was held between hunters and PA Game Commission officials at the East Freedom Fire Hall. At that meeting both hunters and the Game Commission were in agreement that efforts must continue to stop CWD. However, many hunters in attendance like Swope Jr. feel more money should be put towards researching a cure for the disease.

“By killing the deer, all they’re trying to do is slow the spread… but that’s not actually fixing the problem,” he said.

At the moment, the PA Game Commission, through their drafted plan, indicates targeted removals may be the only way to keep the disease from spreading if deer density populations in CWD “hot spots” remain too high following hunting season.

The Game Commission is accepting comments on their proposed policies until May, 7. Following this date, they’ll make a decision on the drafted policies.

Note: Hunting season has not changed as a result of Covid-19.

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