BOARD TAKES NEW STEPS TOWARD PROTECTING STATE FROM CWD-PA Game Commision
Hunting- As the agency works to collaborate with the state Agriculture Department to implement actions under the Pennsylvania CWD Response Plan, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure granting certain emergency authorities to the executive director to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), if it is discovered in or near the state or poses a serious threat to the Commonwealth's deer and elk populations.
If approved by the Board at the October meeting, the regulation would grant the executive director the authority to prohibit feeding of deer in the containment area if the spread of CWD poses a threat to human safety, farm animals, pets or wildlife in the Commonwealth, and to ban the importation of certain high-risk deer or elk parts, such as lymph nodes, brain and spinal cord.
"While current state law and regulation prohibits the feeding of elk and bears, we recognize that many Pennsylvanians enjoy feeding other wildlife, and we do not anticipate prohibiting those feeding activities unless or until CWD poses a threat to our deer and elk," said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "However, if the Board approves this measure in October, we fully expect to implement the ban on importing certain high-risk deer and elk parts as soon as possible as a means of preventing hunters from unintentionally bringing back to our state material that could potentially cause the introduction of CWD into our state.
"As CWD is found in more and more states, most recently in New York, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect our wild deer and elk, as well as the captive deer and elk herds, from being exposed to this disease."
First identified in Colorado in 1967, CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that affects members of the deer family (cervids), including white-tailed deer and elk. It is a progressive and always fatal disease, which scientists theorize is caused by an unknown agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form. Once the abnormal form is created, it changes the shape of adjacent proteins and causes holes to form in brain tissue.
There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, no cure for animals that contact the disease and no vaccine to prevent an animal from contracting the disease. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, decreased appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death.
There is no scientific evidence of CWD being transmitted to humans or to other non-cervid livestock under normal conditions.
Deer or elk harboring CWD may not show any signs of the disease for the first year or so, however, death normally follows within a year of when symptoms begin.
Those states where CWD has been found in wild or captive deer or elk herds are: Colorado; Wyoming; Montana; Utah; New Mexico; New York; South Dakota; Nebraska; Kansas; Oklahoma; Minnesota; Wisconsin; and Illinois. In addition, CWD has been detected in wild or captive deer and elk in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
This year, as in previous years, the Game Commission collected samples from hunter-killed deer during the two-week rifle deer season and samples from hunter-killed elk for CWD testing. This marked the fourth year for testing hunter-killed elk and the third year for testing hunter-killed deer. In total, 162 elk have been tested and 6,259 deer have been tested. So far, all samples collected have been negative.
"The test results are good news," Ross said. "Although CWD has not been found in Pennsylvania, we must continue to be vigilant in our CWD monitoring efforts. The surveillance information we are gathering is important for the early detection of CWD.
"We already are planning to continue random testing of hunter-killed deer and elk during the 2005-2006 seasons, and we are pleased that the Pennsylvania and U.S. Departments of Agriculture will continue to play an important role in this disease surveillance program."
In March, the Game Commission and other members of Pennsylvania's CWD Task Force went on increased alert when it was announced that test results showed one captive white-tailed deer on each of two different farms in Oneida County, New York, were infected with CWD.
In April, New York officials announced that CWD was found in two wild deer in the vicinity of the infected farms. Also, their investigation into the possible source of introduction of CWD into New York was most likely one of the deer farmers who also was a taxidermist and rehabilitator. Records indicate that deer and elk heads were mounted from CWD-positive states, and rehabilitated deer were raised in the taxidermy studio, directly exposing the deer to infected waste. Rehabilitated deer were kept in captivity and others were released into the wild.
The Game Commission, the Governor's Policy Office, state Department of Agriculture, state Department of Health, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture completed a CWD response plan for Pennsylvania nearly two years ago. The interagency task force focused on ways to prevent CWD from entering the Commonwealth and to ensure early detection should CWD enter the state, and has laid out a comprehensive response plan to contain and eradicate CWD should it be found within the state.
In light of recent events in New York, and that new knowledge has been acquired in the past two years, the CWD response plan currently is being updated and will be finalized in the next few months.
SPECIES OF SPECIAL CONCERN RECEIVE SPECIAL TREATMENT
The Board of Game Commissioners today took preliminary steps to move the bald eagle from an endangered to a threatened species, based on its continued recovery in the Commonwealth. It is a first time the eagle has received this sort of management consideration in more than a quarter century.
Bald eagles are thriving throughout the eastern United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently is considering the possibility of de-listing bald eagles from the federal Endangered and Threatened Species List. Bald eagles are currently listed federally as threatened species.
"It's heart-warming to know that bald eagles are once again flourishing in the Commonwealth," noted John Riley, Board of Game Commissioners president. "It is something all Pennsylvanians should be proud of and a testament of what can be accomplished with a proactive wildlife management program.
"But as pleasing as the news is that bald eagles have rebounded, there is still the somber reality that we just added five new species to the state endangered list. It's pretty clear that there's much more work to do here in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, insufficient funding is currently - and has historically - limited the agency's ability to give all wildlife species the management attention they need."
The dickcissel, sedge wren and yellow-bellied flycatcher, all listed as threatened species for years, were elevated to endangered species in preliminary action taken by the Board of Game Commissioners. In addition, the black-crowned night heron and blackpoll warbler, both species of special concern for some time, have been added to the state endangered species list.
The number of nests in Pennsylvania black-crowned night heron colonies have been declining for some time. But this spring on the Susquehanna River's Wade Island - the state's largest black-crowned colony - the number of nests dropped to 63 from 128 in 2004. Great egrets, another state endangered species that also nests on the three-acre island, did not experience a similar decline.
Blackpoll warblers nest in a very localized area of western Wyoming County. Their nesting in this area has been confirmed for 11 consecutive years. No more than 14 breeding pairs have ever been documented in any year in Pennsylvania. It was added to the state endangered species list in response to its low population and limited range.
Sedge wrens, dickcissels and yellow-bellied flycatchers all are rare nesters in Pennsylvania. Several neighboring states list sedge wrens as threatened or endangered species. All three species have been elevated to "endangered" from "threatened" to reflect the agency's growing concern for the welfare of these rare birds.
"Species of greatest conservation concern will continue to receive the best attention the agency can provide," noted Dan Brauning, Wildlife Diversity Section supervisor. "But it's recognized that some, such as the endangered yellow-crowned and black-crowned night herons, aren't likely to experience significant population gains anytime soon."
The endangered species changes advanced by the Commissioners were recommended by the Pennsylvania Biological Survey's Ornithological Technical Committee.
GAME COMMISSIONERS APPROVE IMPORTANT WILDLIFE PROJECTS
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners approved four projects extremely beneficial to non-game wildlife that will be financed through federal funding and contributions by conservation organizations.
The research projects will be funded primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under its cost-sharing State Wildlife Grants Program (SWG). Private organizations finance the matching portion of the project's overall cost as defined by the federal government. An advisory group, comprised of Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission staff, review and rank projects, and then secure Board of Commissioners approvals for selected projects.
SWG is America's - as well as Pennsylvania's - best hope for aggressively stemming the decline of threatened and endangered species. The program's philosophy is that it's cheaper - and far more effective and responsible - to invest now to protect or restore wildlife populations than waiting until the populations reach critically low levels and need expensive "emergency room care" through the Endangered Species Act.
President George Bush in December signed legislation that will provide $69 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to distribute in SWG in the 2005 fiscal year. Pennsylvania's share of this funding package will be nearly $2 million. State distribution of grant monies is determined using a formula that appropriates funds based on a state's land area and population. No state receives more than five percent or less than one percent of the available funds.
"It's truly satisfying to see these meaningful and important causes funded," noted Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "Managing Pennsylvania's wildlife is an expensive and never-ending job. When we can get some help, especially now when our revenues cannot adequately fund the vast needs of wildlife, we welcome it.
"None of these projects will lead to a net reduction in the Game Fund. But they will use federal dollars to employ local organizations to help us learn more about and better manage wildlife and preserve critically important species and their habitats."
The research projects are as follows:
Multi-Species Management Guidelines For Priority Barrens Habitats in Pennsylvania: This $37,012 project being spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy will develop a habitat management and decision-making tool for public and private land managers of the state's barrens habitats. The tool will help land managers identify barrens communities, understand how size, condition and landscape context affect long-term viability of barrens systems, summarize stresses and sources of stress affecting barrens, discuss management options appropriate for achieving management objectives, and best management practices for targeted species that depend on barrens systems.
From Birding to Environmental Review: Developing Data for Conservation Use: This $23,800 project being carried out by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy will develop data from the Game Commission's bird data collectors into a format for entry into the Pennsylvania environmental review system, which, along with the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, will be used in the future as part of the state's environmental review of permits.
Multi-Species Habitat Profiles for Four Major Terrestrial Forest Types in Pennsylvania: This $64,925 project being undertaken by The Nature Conservancy will develop "multi-species habitat profiles" for four major terrestrial forest community types (northern hardwood, dry white pine-oak, dry oak-heath, and red oak-mixed hardwoods), including forest community and successional characterizations, current and best potential site community occurrence analysis, and small mammal survey and habitat profiles for the rock vole and northern water shrew.
Bat Hibernacula Gating: This $63,250 project being carried out by Christopher W. Sanders, of Sanders Environmental Inc. will protect hibernating bats in five caves and two mines by constructing bat-friendly gates at entrances. All sites are either historic Indiana bat hibernacula or in close proximity to Indiana bat hibernacula. Gating will exclude people, while maintaining airflow and allowing unobstructed bat movement.
BOARD TAKES ACTION ON OTHER ITEMS
In other action, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today also:
- At the request of predator hunters, gave preliminary approval to a regulatory change that will allow furbearer hunters to use up to #4 buckshot to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of shotgun loads they use.
- Adopted a proposed amendment to Title 58 of the Pennsylvania Code authorizing the agency's executive director to designate dates for special deer hunts at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area outside of the statewide framework for deer seasons.
- Approved several technical amendments to improve the organization of the agency's regulations.
- Announced the next scheduled meeting of the Board will be held Oct. 2, 3 and 4, in the auditorium of the agency's Harrisburg headquarters, 2001 Elmerton Ave.
Source: PA Game Commision
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