Updated 2 hours ago
Amidst a situation described as “dire” already and potentially “catastrophic” soon, a campaign for the hearts and minds of Pennsylvania’s hunters is underway.
Newly discovered chronic wasting disease is the reason.
Pennsylvania Game Commission officials said an adult buck with CWD, as the always-fatal ailment is known, recently was found on state game land 87 in Bell Township, Clearfield County. That’s within disease management area 3.
Wasting disease was discovered there previously, in 2014. That, though, was on two captive deer farms.
It never was detected in wild deer there before now, despite the commission having tested 1,012 hunter- and road-killed whitetails, executive director Bryan Burhans said.
Its presence is bad news, given what’s at stake.
Burhans said hunting generates $1.6 billion in economic activity statewide annually. Hunting license sales, meanwhile, largely fund the commission.
“The mere existence of chronic wasting disease in Pennsylvania represents a serious risk to our deer and elk herds and hunting and conservation in the commonwealth,” Burhans said.
It’s not just one deer jeopardizing that.
Justin Brown, the commission’s wildlife veterinarian, said the Clearfield County buck was euthanized by a wildlife conservation officer after exhibiting “clinical” signs of disease. It was emaciated, he said, and lethargic to the point of being unaware of its surroundings.
Given how the disease works, that suggests the deer was sick — and spreading infectious prions on the landscape — for at least one year, and perhaps two, before discovery, said Wayne Laroche, director of the commission’s bureau of wildlife management.
So it’s probably not one of a kind.
“I think there’s a pretty high likelihood that there are” other sick deer out there, Laroche said.
If left unchecked, he said, the disease will spread “exponentially.”
That’s how things are playing out elsewhere within the state.
Between 2012 and ’15, the commission found — statewide — 22 CWD-positive deer. Then, last year alone, it found 25 more, all wild animals within disease management area 2 in southcentral Pennsylvania.
This year it has confirmed nine more there.
“So we have every reason to believe we’ll be on the order of 40 or 50 cases this year,” Laroche said.
If that’s not scary enough, discovery of wasting disease in…