Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is impacting the deer population of Pennsylvania in a big way, and The Centre Daily Times has an article about the situation on its website. CWD, also known as “zombie deer disease,” impacts the behavior of deer and elk and causes progressive weight loss; it is always fatal. Most scientists believe that the disease is caused by a prion, an abnormal protein, which starts a deadly chain-reaction among other proteins in the central nervous system.
The deer population of a number of Pennsylvania counties has been hit hard, and the state increased the number of deer hunting permits last year in the areas with the most sick deer in an effort to stop, or at least slow, the spread of the disease. They also initiated an in-depth study of the situation. However, hunters failed to significantly lower the number of deer, so the state then began hiring sharpshooters, in a process known as targeted removal, to attempt to halt the epidemic.
Protests and cancellation
Targeted removal has proved to be unpopular among residents of the impacted areas. Some local hunters feel that they should be responsible for harvesting the deer, not professionals, and they allege that the state is trying to conduct the operation in a clandestine manner. While acknowledging that they knew the state was issuing extra hunting permits last year, these hunters claim that they were not made aware specifically why this was happening and, therefore, did not understand how important it was for them to hunt more deer than during a typical season.
The hunters’ complaints reached the ears of sympathetic lawmakers, and consequently, the targeted removal program was cancelled. The state said that a lack of access to private land was the reason for the cancellation. In any event, the spread of CWD has not been stopped or slowed in the state, and no one is happy about this.
On the positive side, it was recently announced that Frank Bastian, a research scientist at Louisiana State University, has found a bacterial cause of CWD. In conjunction with the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, Bastian wants to initiate an ambitious program to develop a vaccine, implement it in the field and comprehensively analyze the results. However, other scientists quickly responded that there is little merit to Bastian’s research and say he is merely spreading false hope.