Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Request to Control Disease: Please Don't Feed the Deer

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Request to Control Disease: Please Don't Feed the Deer

Article excerpt

In an uphill battle to slow the spread of wildlife diseases, the state Game Commission is asking Pennsylvanians to voluntarily buck a nationwide trend in wildlife feeding.

The request was prompted by agency biologists who are battling the spread of a fatal deer malady - chronic wasting disease. They recently recommended to commissioners that a statewide ban on feeding white-tailed deer would help slow the spread of wildlife diseases.

A ban is not likely to happen soon.

A 2016 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that home wildlife watching is a growing pastime practiced by some 81 million Americans. More than 1 million Pennsylvanians are believed to enjoy watching deer, birds and other critters outside the window, and routine feeding keeps the animals coming back for more.

If the Game Commission recommendation evolves into an official proposal presented to the state Legislature, it would go to the separate Senate and House Game and Fisheries Committees. Supporting legislators would have to explain to voters why they can't fill their feeders.

"There is a committee made up mostly of Game Commission staff that has recommended expanding the existing feeding ban for bears and elk to include deer and turkeys," said Travis Lau, a Game Commission spokesman. "In response, the agency is conducting open houses and otherwise collecting public comment to gauge opinions on the issue. Without the public's support and compliance, a ban won't work."

Fish and Wildlife Service supports the Game Commission biologists, suggesting they got the science right. Although animals exchange bodily fluids in natural settings, artificial feeding stations such as bird feeders and shucked corn piles create additional opportunity for the spread of disease-laden microorganisms.

The Game Commission routinely addresses wildlife outbreaks of mange, insect-borne infections, West Nile Virus and other flare-ups, but its top concern is chronic wasting disease. The neurological disorder, similar to bovine "mad cow disease," is communicable to deer, elk and moose. …

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