CWD-Infected Deer Appeared Healthy

After 15-years of testing more than 43,000 deer, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has confirmed three cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in hunter-killed deer.  Two of the infected animals were harvested in Blair County; the third came from Bedford County.  “We’ve been saying for many years it’s not a matter of if but when, and I think we’ve arrived at when,” says Calvin DuBrock, Director of Wildlife Management. 

CWD had previously been detected in the wild in three neighboring states: Maryland, West Virginia and New York.  However, DuBrock says they have not confirmed whether infected deer traveled to southern Pennsylvania from Maryland, or whether they are the result of escaped captive deer. 

All three hunters who harvested the infected deer tell wildlife conservation officers the deer appeared to be healthy and were not acting sick in any way. 

The Game Commission is still awaiting additional test results from this past deer season, so DuBrock says it would be premature to discuss any potential policy changes for the fall, but he does note that another disease management area will likely be created.  “So there will be intensified sampling that would occur in any area designated as a disease management area,” DuBrock says.  “There will be restrictions on the movement of deer in and out of the area, and high-risk parts in and out of the area.”  That’s similar to what occurred, last year, when a captive deer tested positive in Adams County

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend consuming the meat of CWD-infected deer, but DuBrock stresses there are no known health implications for humans.  Public meetings will soon be scheduled in Bedford and Blair counties. 

This Game Commission map shows where the new cases area in relation to confirmed cases in Maryland and last year's Disease Management Area in Adams & York counties.

This Game Commission map shows where the new cases are in relation to confirmed cases in Maryland and last year’s Disease Management Area in Adams & York counties.

Hunting, Forests

Farmers Pleased with Landowner Liability Bill

Landowners who allow hunting on their properties can be held responsible for Game Code violations, under current law, but SB 1403 would limit that liability. 

The legislation breezed through the state Senate unanimously last week, and appears to have farmers’ support.  “You just don’t have that much cash around, you know, to try and defend yourself for something that you shouldn’t have been held liable for to begin with,” explains Adams County Farm Bureau president Dan Wilkinson. 

While Wilkinson hasn’t dealt with such liability issues himself, he supports the measure as being in farmers’ best interest. 

 “We should be encouraging farmers and landowners to open their land for hunting and other recreational purposes instead of threatening them with legal consequences for the actions of others,” said State Senator Richard Alloway (R-Franklin/Adams) in a written statement.  Alloway is both the bill’s prime sponsor and Chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee. 

“You’d have people standing on top of each other,” added Wilkinson about the prospect of limiting hunting to state-owned game lands.  About 80% of the huntable land in the state is owned by farmers and other private landowners.    

The bill does specify that property owners could still be held responsible if they receive a payment or fee from the hunter.   It now awaits House committee action.

Whitetail Deer

Should PA Lift its Sunday Hunting Ban?

Pennsylvania’s prohibition on Sunday hunting doesn’t mesh with today’s busy lifestyles, according to State Rep. John Evans (R-Erie), who chairs the House Game and Fisheries Committee.  “There are limited opportunities that folks have to go out into the field,” Evans tells us.  In the weeks ahead, Evans will introduce legislation that would simply lift the ban.  “We’re not going to try to dictate to the Game Commission what opportunities should be made available to Sunday hunting… but we just want to bring ourselves in line with [nearly] 40-other states that currently permit at least some form of Sunday hunting,” Evans says. 

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau can be counted among the vocal opponents of Sunday hunting.  “What farmers want is that one day a week, during the hunting seasons, when they can relax and have some peace on their own property,” says PFB spokesman Mark O’Neill.  Farmers and other private landowners control about 80% of the huntable land in the Keystone State, and O’Neill says many farmers open up their property to hunters in order to control wildlife populations.  “Farmers are not anti-hunting, they’re pro-hunting, but they just feel that Sunday is the day that should be left to other enterprises… or just taking it easy.”   

On the flip-side, Evans says we’ve already gotten away from the “blue law” mentality that was behind PA’s Sunday hunting prohibition.  “We can buy liquor in state liquor stores on Sunday, for goodness sakes,” he points out.  Evans also notes that farmers – or any private landowner – would be able to post their land to disallow Sunday hunting at any time.    

Rep. Evans’ committee is in the midst of three statewide hearings on the topic.  The first was held last week in Somerset County; the next two will be scheduled for northeastern PA, and the state capitol.  The Pennsylvania Game Commission does not take a position on the Sunday hunting issue.