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August 21, 2019

Pennsylvania Game Commission, Penn Vet team up to target wildlife disease

Wildlife Disease
deer game commission Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program will improve the way the state responds to chronic wasting disease, a deadly condition afflicting the Pennsylvania's deer population. The Game Commission and Penn Vet will work together to address a range of wildlife diseases across the state.

A new partnership between the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine will boost state resources to combat wildlife diseases. 

The Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program comes as the state deals with a range of ailments affecting wildlife, from chronic wasting disease creating a "zombie deer" population to white-nose syndrome killing off cave bat species.

The science-based program will increase disease surveillance, management and research across the state to protect the health of wildlife, officials said. It will be funded through a five-year, $10 million contract financed by the Game Commission.

“The Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program demonstrates how public-private partnerships can advance the health of our wildlife and the resilience of their habitats,” said Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director Dr. Matthew Schnupp. "Our research-oriented partnership with Penn Vet will be invaluable in helping us define wildlife diseases, their impacts, and how we can manage them. It will undoubtedly enhance our ability to coordinate disease responses across agencies, our hunting community and the general public.”

One example of how the program will improve the state's response system is sample submissions from hunters looking to test deer for chronic wasting disease. Current test-result turnarounds can take weeks to months to process, but the new program will get hunters results within seven to 10 days and allow them to track those results online.

Twelve employees, including one full-time employee in Harrisburg, will now be dedicated to addressing wildlife diseases through the new program, which will be based out of Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square.

"The Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program establishes a sustainable infrastructure for collaboration, and really represents a paradigm shift in managing wildlife disease,” ecologist Dr. Julie Ellis said. “Not only are we charting a novel and comprehensive program that helps protect Pennsylvania wildlife, but ultimately, we are working to safeguard the health of Pennsylvania’s nearly 13 million residents from the potential impacts of wildlife disease."

Ellis will lead the program along with veterinarian and toxicologist Dr. Lisa Murphy.

A press conference discussing plans and goals for the new program can be viewed below.