ROARING SPRING - Hunters turned Spring Cove Middle School's 500-seat auditorium into a sea of camouflage Wednesday as state Game Commission officers revealed the first hints of their response to chronic wasting disease in wild deer.
In an hours long presentation to a packed house, commission veterinarian Walt Cottrell and Bureau of Wildlife Management Director Calvin DuBrock detailed how the deadly deer illness' spreads and the prognosis for Blair and Bedford counties, the site of Pennsylvania's first wild outbreak......
"There is no place where this disease has ever occurred that it has been stopped," Cottrell said. "There are two things the disease does when it arrives: It gets worse, and it spreads."
Chronic wasting disease, which slowly destroys deer's brains and ends in certain death, spread to Pennsylvania sometime before the fall hunting season. While there's no evidence that the disease can affect humans, it decimates deer populations when it hits, Cottrell said.
In response, Game Commission officials have declared a "disease management area" ranging from the turnpike in Bedford County to a Tyrone-Huntingdon axis in the north and from Portage in the west to Raystown Lake in the east....
Those orders - likely to be developed in the coming weeks and revealed before fall - will affect deer on both private and public lands, he said.
DuBrock said commission officials haven't decided how far to extend new rules....
Deer hit by cars in the zone will be tested whenever possible, officials said, and further public hearings will be scheduled before the fall rifle season.
It's too late to stop the illness entirely, Cottrell cautioned. The protein that causes chronic wasting disease survives in the ground indefinitely, and with Pennsylvania's dense heavy deer population its spread is almost guaranteed, he said.
Cottrell said 48 percent of bucks in Wyoming, near the disease's national epicenter, are infected. Pennsylvania's deer population is 10 times as dense, he said, and therefore vastly more likely to transmit the deadly protein.
With the three positives found among just 192 local deer tested since fall, an audience member asked how many others already carry the disease in Blair and Bedford counties.
"More than three," Cottrell said.