Deer illegally transferred to CWD-contaminated farm

As if it wasn't bad enough that chronic wasting disease (CWD) hit Pennsylvania farm-raised captive deer last fall, news has surfaced that one of the quarantined farms in Adams County transferred three deer to a contaminated farm in Adams County last month in direct violation of the quarantine.

Troy Luckenbaugh of East Berlin, Adams County, illegally transferred three deer to the farm owned by Ronald Rutters in Straban Township, Adams County, according to the Department of Agriculture. Rutters' deer pens were the first in the state discovered to have deer that tested positive for CWD.

The Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture fined Luckenbaugh just $300 for his actions — just $100 per deer — for the illegal activity.

"He was on the quarantined list," Dept. of Agriculture press secretary Samantha Elliott Krepps said last week. "No cervid [deer, moose or elk] could go on or off his farm, and no CWD-susceptible animals are allowed to go on or off those farms because the prions for CWD are still on the ground in that farm."

Carl G. Roe, the executive director for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, has declared two executive orders for areas with confirmed cases of CWD, declaring Disease Management Areas in approximately 1,500 square miles because of specific threat to the indigenous wild deer.

Farm-raised captive deer do not fall under the game commission's domain thanks to legislative action that transferred that power to the Department of Agriculture several years ago. When the game commission did have control over those deer, it demanded that double fencing be used for the deer enclosures. The Department of Agriculture does not.

Four farms were quarantined last fall, with Roe declaring a 600-square mile DMAin Adams and York counties. The Dept. of Agriculture could not re-erect a pen on one of the sites, and the game commission ended up doing so, according to PGC commissioner Dave Putnam.

Rutters had two deer on his property test positive for CWD last fall, and another, called Pink 23, escaped when Department of Agriculture personnel came to euthanize and test the remaining deer.

"You cannot test for CWD in live animals," Krepps said. She added that the three deer in question will be euthanized and tested for CWD.

According to Rick Watts from the state advisory council of the Quality Deer Management Association, when an Adams County Wildlife Conservation Officer who observed two doe and a buck in his contaminated farm last month, Rutters claimed that he had paperwork from the Department of Agriculture that allowed him to bring deer into the quarantined area. Krepps denied that and said that only non-cervids could be allowed on the farm because CWD is not known to cross beyond the genetics of the cervid family.

Despite bringing the deer onto his contaminated property, no charges were brought against Rutters because no cash was exchanged in the transaction.

That's a pretty disturbing occurrence for anyone who loves the outdoors, whether as a passive observers who just loves the beauty of the natural world or an avid hunter or angler.

It's even more disturbing that some state legislators are still trying to strip the game commission and the fish and boat commission of their authority when it comes to wildlife. Most recently, state representative Jeff Pyle R-Armstrong and state senator Joe Scarnati R-Jefferson have proposed bills to hand the power to authorize the threatened and endangered species in the state to the lawmakers review process.

The bills are being opposed by PGC, PFBC, the Pennsylvania Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Penn Future as bills that are aiming at a problem that doesn't exist while putting unnecessary delays — up to two years — while turning decisions based on science into political debate.

State Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery/Philadelphia, condemned the proposed bills.

"Think of our natural history as a grand tapestry," McCarter said in a statement. "If you remove one strand it causes a negative chain reaction on every other fiber. Industries that rely on our natural resources should be fighting against these bills, not championing them."

McCarter said that the state stands to lose almost $20 million in federal wildlife management funding if the bills pass.

"The Pennsylvania Game Commission has been scientifically managing wildlife in this commonwealth for nearly 120 years," he said. "Why the makers of these bills want to throw away 120 years of knowledge, remove scientific experts and replaces them with bureaucrats and politicians is baffling."

Many, like PennFuture, fear that the bills will allow industries a greater voice in developing Penn's Woods into Marcellus Shale gas pads and pipeline.

"It's no surprise that outdoors groups are opposed to this bill as it would trade the welfare of wildlife for the interests of big business," PennFuture communications manager Elaine Labalme said in a statement.

gary.blockus@mcall.com

610-820-6782

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