PGC informs public of threats to wildlife

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm The Pennsylvania Game Commission hosted an open house at Warren Area High School Tuesday evening. Those who attended could gather information and speak with officials about the health concerns posed by feeding wildlife. George Miller, land manager for Warren and Forest counties, speaks with people in attendance at Tuesday’s Game Commission Open House.

As officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission hosted an open house Tuesday evening, several people asked what the difference is between offering deer a bag of corn as opposed to deer helping themselves to a field of corn.

George Miller, land manager for Warren and Forest counties, drew an interesting analogy as he answered the question. “Suppose you’re at a restaurant and 25 people eat from the same plate,” Miller said. “If just one of those people is sick, chances are everyone is going to be exposed to it.”

It’s the same for deer, according to Miller. “Deer eating crops will be spread out,” he said. “Deer eating from a pile will flock to it and are at increased risk to be exposed to each others saliva.”

The Pennsylvania Game Commission hosted an open house at Warren Area High School Tuesday evening. The purpose of the gathering was to inform the public of potential threats to wildlife caused by feeding them and gather public input regarding potential restrictions being considered.

Tuesday’s gathering was the fourth open house held so far across the state. More public meetings are scheduled to take place in Huntingdon, Delmont and Jersey Shore.

There was no formal presentation or lecture at the open house. Pertinent information was posted and available as a handout and about a dozen officials were there to answer questions and address concerns.

Miller told several people that the state already has restrictions on feeding elk and bear. “This potential change would just add deer and turkey,” he said. Regulations prohibiting the feeding of elk and bear were put in place in 1995 and 2003, respectively.

According to the information provided by the game commission, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was first detected in deer in Pennsylvania in 2012 and continues to spread.

CWD is a transmissible disease that attacks an animal’s brain, causing loss of normal bodily functions. Infected deer and elk can show no signs of illness for 18 months or longer. There is no cure or vaccine for the fatal disease.

Incidents of mange in bears is also on the rise. Although it’s already illegal to feed bears, they still congregate at feeding sites intended for deer and turkey.

Mange is a contagious skin condition caused by burrowing mites. In some cases, mange can be fatal, debilitating an infected bear.

Officials are also concerned about the spread of bovine tuberculosis, a bacterial disease of the respiratory system. It can be fatal to a wide variety of wildlife and domestic livestock. Currently, there have been no confirmed cases in the state.

The initial stage of the process that led to Tuesday’s open house began with meetings of a Citizen Advisory Committee, consisting of stakeholders from the North-Central Region. Those meetings led to a draft plan submitted by the Wildlife Feeding Committee to the Game Commission Executive Office for review. The public open houses are the next step in the process to collect public input from a larger group of constituents.

The proposed timeline of the process includes conducting the open houses in July and August. Revisions and recommendations will be made in September. Those will be posted online for final public input. Recommendations will be made to the Executive Office in October.