CWD deer

A whitetailed deer dying from Chronic Wasting Disease.

In an online conference call, a panel of experts addressed the state’s Board of Game Commissioners Monday, speaking for hours about a deadly illness that continues to spread across the state.

But unlike most government officials across the world their focus wasn’t on the COVID-19 pandemic. They were concerned about chronic wasting disease — an always-fatal illness attacking the state’s deer population.

The Monday discussion preceded the release of a new draft plan on how to combat the disease, and while that plan may still be altered, one thing is certain, experts said: Hunters’ support will be necessary to successfully combat the disease.

And their support must be contingent on factual, scientific information, not rumors circulated on social media and the halls of sportsmen’s clubs.

“It’s really dangerous to say more than you know and to make promises that you can't keep,” said Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO with the National Deer Alliance. “It really is the land of misinformation.”

And that information has been widespread, Pinizzotto said, explaining it’s been exacerbated by public figures — who he did not name — who’ve claimed that chronic wasting disease “is a scam.”

To state Game Commission officials the disease, which attacks the brains of deer, elk and moose, is all too real. In fact, tests from animals killed during the 2019-20 season showed the highest number of infected deer since the disease was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2012. As of the start of this month there were 204 positives, up from 2018-19’s 123. Deer have tested positive for the disease on Lancaster County captive deer farms.

If case numbers alone weren’t enough to drum up hunter buy-in, commission officials have been transparent with their plans to address the issue, inviting stakeholders to review and comment on drafts of their Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan.

An early public comment period ran from September through February.

“Comments received were considered when making revisions to the current draft of the CWD Response Plan,” said commission spokeswoman Courtney Colley.

That feedback was used to develop a 64-page draft, which was made public Tuesday, including proposals to expand testing and surveillance for the disease, increase hunting opportunities in certain places and conduct targeted removal of deer by sharpshooters in highly affected areas — methods that have been effective in other states impacted by the disease.

The full draft plan can be reviewed on the Game Commission’s website, and public comments on the plan can be submitted through May 7.

“Public comments will once again be reviewed and considered when revising the final CWD Response Plan before it is presented to the Board of Commissioners for final approval in May,” Colley said.

CWD Response Plan Summary by Sean Sauro on Scribd