Extra doe tags are on sale now for Lancaster County’s special Chronic Wasting Disease Enhanced Surveillance Unit.
The goal for issuing these permits, which can only be used within the designated ESU, is to give biologists a greater sampling size in a focused area for testing deer for CWD.
“But hunters are the real key to making (the testing program) work,” said Chris Rosenberry, chief of the Game Commission’s game management division.
“The samples they provide from deer they harvest, especially in Enhanced Surveillance Units, help us to identify where CWD exists on the landscape, at what prevalence, and what management actions we need to take to control it.”
Wildlife Management Unit 5B covers all or parts of several counties, including, Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks.
WMU 5B was allocated 60,000 antlerless deer licenses for the 2020-21 hunting season. A WMU 5B tag can be used anywhere in the unit.
Within WMU 5B, the Game Commission has established CWD Zone 4, which is a swath of land stretching from southern Lebanon and Berks counties south to southern Lancaster County.
That zone surrounds two farms where captive deer were found to have CWD within the past two years. One farm is in the Denver area and the other is in Upper Leacock Township.
To focus hunting activity within CWD Zone 4, the Game Commission created the ESU and deployed its Deer Management Assistance Program, which includes antlerless licenses above and beyond WMU allocations.
DMAP permits are issued for, and only eligible for use in, specified areas with defined boundaries.
DMAP Unit 3468 encompasses 346 square miles in Bern, Brecknock, Cumru, Heidelberg, Jefferson, Lower Heidelberg, Marion, North Heidelberg, Penn, South Heidelberg and Spring townships in Berks County; Heidelberg, Jackson, Millcreek, North Lebanon and South Lebanon townships in Lebanon County; and Brecknock, Clay, Earl, East Cocalico, East Earl, Elizabeth, Ephrata, Upper Leacock, Warwick, West Cocalico and West Earl townships in Lancaster County.
The Game Commission issued 4,430 DMAP permits for Unit 3468 this year. Hunters can buy no more than two of these permits at any license issuing agent, or online via the Game Commission’s website.
DMAP tags don’t count toward a hunter’s annual statewide antlerless license limit of three, outside the Special Regulations Area.
As of last Thursday, the Game Commission had sold 935 permits for DMAP Unit 3468, and 3,495 remained for sale.
The allocation for the unit follows the standard DMAP density of one permit per 50 acres of land. The goal is for the Game Commission to hopefully get 250-300 sample deer for testing from the ESU “to better determine the extent of the disease in the area,” the agency’s deer management team said.
Special collection sites will be established throughout CWD Zone 4, where hunters can take the heads of deer they harvest for testing by the Game Commission.
It’s not required that deer heads be left for testing, but by the same token, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends hunters don’t eat venison from deer with CWD. And the only way to know if a deer has CWD is through testing.
It should be noted that there is no evidence that CWD exists in the wild here in Lancaster County, or the rest of CWD Zone 4. The deer found there with the disease were all captive deer.
But the Game Commission wants to know if those penned deer had any contact with wild deer, which is why the ESU was created.
If you charted the townships that make up the ESU, you’ll notice it’s heavily skewed toward the area around the Denver farm where CWD was found.
There’s not much ground in the ESU around the Upper Leacock farm. That’s by design, biologists said, because there’s not much wild deer habitat in the Upper Leacock area.
According to the Game Commission, no hunter-killed deer have been reported in Upper Leacock Township the past two years, and a total of only 25 deer have been reported in the townships on either side of it over that same period.
Comparatively, more than 400 deer were taken by hunters in West Cocalico Township alone the last two years.
Also, the Upper Leacock farm where CWD was found no longer has any deer on it, “so there is no ongoing risk” of CWD transmission to wild deer, the deer team said.
So the extra deer taken through the use of DMAP will be taken from a focused area. Testing of those deer will give biologists an idea of where to focus further CWD response efforts if any of those deer test positive for the disease.
If no wild deer test positive for CWD after five years, then CWD Zone 4 will be dissolved.
Even with the 4,430 DMAP permits issued for DMAP Unit 3468, WMU 5B’s total antlerless license allocation is down this year from last year.
For 2019-20, all 67,000 antlerless deer licenses allocated for the unit were sold. That allocation resulted in an estimated kill of 15,345 deer.
For 2020-21, WMU 5B was allocated 60,000 antlerless deer licenses, plus the 4,430 DMAP permits, which can only be used in the designated portion of 5B.
So Game Commission biologists are not worried about an overharvest of deer within the unit by adding DMAP permits to the total unit allocation.
“In general, the Game Commission is more concerned about the long-term effect of missing CWD outside the (deer farm) fence in DMAP Unit 3468,” the deer team said.
“If CWD is present and growing but undetected in DMAP Unit 3468, the long-term negative impact on deer hunting will be more significant than this year’s DMAP permits.”