Pa. Game Com­mis­sion ramps up bat­tle against CWD.

The Boyertown Area Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Ta­tum For Digital First Media

It’s hard to be­lieve that hunt­ing sea­son is just two weeks away, her­alded by the open­ing of our early goose and dove sea­sons here on Sept. 1. It may be even harder to be­lieve that archery deer sea­son here in Wildlife Man­age­ment Units (WMU) 5C and 5D opens just a month from now on Sept. 16 (al­though the statewide archery sea­son doesn’t open un­til Sept. 30). The ex­tended deer sea­sons in our cor­ner of the Com­mon­wealth are in­dica­tive of an over­pop­u­la­tion of white­tails here and a press­ing need to cull the herd. But else­where in the state, when it comes to deer, other is­sues are more press­ing.

First and fore­most among these is the grow­ing threat of chronic wast­ing dis­ease (CWD), a prob­lem the Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion (PGC) now faces with a re­newed sense of ur­gency. While CWD hasn’t yet sur­faced any­where in our neck of Penn’s Woods, it has reared its de­struc­tive head in other coun­ties. In re­sponse, the PGC has cre­ated a new ex­ec­u­tive-level po­si­tion to di­rect its on­go­ing and in­ten­si­fy­ing ef­forts to limit the spread of chronic wast­ing dis­ease in wild white­tailed deer and neu­tral­ize its threat to wild elk.

So on Au­gust 1, Wayne A. Laroche, who has served as the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Man­age­ment di­rec­tor for the past two years, was ap­pointed to Spe­cial As­sis­tant for CWD Re­sponse, a new po­si­tion. In his new ca­pac­ity Laroche will lead the Game Com­mis­sion’s ef­forts to slow CWD’s spread and min­i­mize its im­pacts on white­tails and elk.

Chronic wast­ing dis­ease is a trans­mis­si­ble spongi­form en­cephalopa­thy sim­i­lar to Mad Cow Dis­ease in cat­tle; Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease (CJD) in hu­mans; and Scrapie in sheep and goats. It was first rec­og­nized in deer and elk in Colorado in 1967. The cause of CWD is be­lieved to be an ab­nor­mal prion (pro­tein in­fec­tious par­ti­cle). Pri­ons are con­cen­trated in the brain, ner­vous sys­tem, and lym-

phoid tis­sues of in­fected an­i­mals. It causes death of brain cells re­sult­ing in mi­cro­scopic holes in the brain tis­sue.

While an­i­mals in­fected with CWD do not show signs of in­fec­tion for 12 or more months, late stage symp­toms of CWD-in­fected an­i­mals in­clude an ex­treme loss of body con­di­tion; ex­ces­sive drink­ing, uri­na­tion, sali­va­tion and drool­ing; and be­hav­ioral and neu­ro­logic changes such as repet­i­tive walk­ing pat­terns, droopy ears, a wide-based stance and list­less­ness. Some an­i­mals lose their fear of hu­mans and preda­tors. There is no known cure. It is im­por­tant to note that these symp­toms may also be char­ac­ter­is­tic of dis­eases other than CWD.

CWD is trans­mit­ted both di­rectly through an­i­malto-an­i­mal con­tact and in­di­rectly through food and soil con­tam­i­nated with bod­ily se­cre­tions in­clud­ing fe­ces, urine and saliva. Con­tam­i­nated car­casses or high-risk car­cass parts may also spread the dis­ease in­di­rectly through en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­na­tion. Pri­ons are very sta­ble in the en­vi­ron­ment and re­main in­fec­tious for decades.

With Laroche mov­ing into his new po­si­tion, ef­forts will be­gin im­me­di­ately to hire a new di­rec­tor for the Bureau of Wildlife Man­age­ment, which is re­spon­si­ble for man­ag­ing the state’s 480 species of wild birds and mam­mals, in­clud­ing 60 game an­i­mals and furbear­ers.

Laroche, over the past two years, has taken the lead on man­ag­ing Penn­syl­va­nia’s spo­radic and smol­der­ing CWD prob­lem in wild deer pop­u­la­tions, de­ploy­ing a va­ri­ety of measures de­signed to as­sess CWD’s preva­lence and limit its spread in ar­eas where it has been found.

Laroche di­rected the Ver­mont Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife from 2003 to 2011 and has served on many state, re­gional and in­ter­na­tional com­mit­tees that man­age wildlife col­lab­o­ra­tively. He earned his bach­e­lor’s in wildlife man­age­ment from the Univer­sity of Maine, School of Forestry, and re­ceived his mas­ter’s in nat­u­ral re­sources, from the Hum­boldt State Univer­sity School of Nat­u­ral Re­sources in Ar­cata, Calif.

“Be­cause I’ve spent so much of my time on Penn­syl­va­nia’s CWD prob­lem, and now that it’s flared up in wild deer within the state’s in­te­rior, it makes per­fect sense for the Game Com­mis­sion to de­vote even more re­sources to fight­ing this dis­ease,” Laroche said. “White­tails and elk are in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to Penn­syl­va­nia. Imag­ine where con­ser­va­tion and tourism would be with­out them.”

On July 13, the Game Com­mis­sion an­nounced a free-rang­ing white­tail buck in Bell Town­ship, Clearfield County, had tested pos­i­tive for CWD. It was found in Dis­ease Man­age­ment Area (DMA) 3, which in­cludes parts of Clearfield, In­di­ana and Jef­fer­son coun­ties. It marked the first time the dis­ease was doc­u­mented in freerang­ing deer in an area of the state where it pre­vi­ously had been de­tected in only cap­tive deer.

CWD also ex­ists among wild deer in the area of south­cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia de­fined as Dis­ease Man­age­ment Area 2. Twen­ty­five free-rang­ing deer tested pos­i­tive for CWD dur­ing 2016. And an ad­di­tional four CWD-pos­i­tive deer have been de­tected since, rais­ing to 51 the to­tal of CWD-pos­i­tives de­tected within the DMA 2 since 2012.

Al­though the PGC has worked ag­gres­sively to limit CWD’s spread by es­tab­lish­ing DMAs in cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia, the dis­ease con­tin­ues to ad­vance within these DMAs. “Our re­sponse to Penn­syl­va­nia’s grow­ing CWD threat must stop this dis­ease,” de­clared Game Com­mis­sion Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Bryan Burhans. “There’s too much at stake to con­sider any other al­ter­na­tive.” Wide­spread loss of white­tails could crip­ple con­ser­va­tion and greatly re­duce the mil­lions of dol­lars hunters spend in Penn­syl­va­nia an­nu­ally.

“Wayne Laroche is a con­ser­va­tion vet­eran who al­ready has worked dili­gently on Penn­syl­va­nia’s evolv­ing CWD plan, and his new po­si­tion cen­ters his fo­cus on CWD,” Burhans ex­plained. “I ex­pect him to hit the ground run­ning in his new role.”

*** An in­for­ma­tional sem­i­nar for mem­bers of the Penn­syl­va­nia Out­door Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion fo­cused on Chronic Wast­ing Dis­ease will be hosted by the Game Com­mis­sion at the PGC head­quar­ters in Har­ris­burg next week. I plan to be in at­ten­dance and pro­vide a full re­port via this col­umn fol­low­ing the event.

TOM TA­TUM - FOR DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA

Chronic wast­ing dis­ease has caused prob­lems for deer around Penn­syl­va­nia.

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