PA Game Commission appoints new leader to fight spread of chronic wasting disease

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HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Game Commission is creating a new executive-level position to lead the effort at limiting the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild white-tail deer and neutralize its threat to wild elk, the organization announced Wednesday.

Wayne A. Laroche, who has spent the last two years as the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Management director, will be appointed to the position of Special Assistant for CWD Response on August 1.

The Game Commission said it will immediately begin the process of hiring Laroche’s replacement as director of the Bureau of Wildlife Management, which is responsible for managing the state’s 480 species of wild birds and mammals, including 60 game animals and furbearers.

Laroche has been one of the Game Commission’s leaders in managing the commonwealth’s sporadic CWD problem in wild deer populations, using a variety of measures designed to asses CWD’s prevalence and limit its spread in areas where it’s been found.

“Because I’ve spent so much of my time on Pennsylvania’s CWD problem, and now that it’s flared up in wild deer within the state’s interior, it makes perfect sense for the Game Commission ot devote even more resources to fighting the disease,” Laroche said in a press release announcing his appointment. “Whitetails and elk are incredibly important to Pennsylvania. Imagine where conservation and tourism would be without them.”

On July 13, the Game Commission announced a free-ranging whitetail buck in Bell Township, Clearfield County, had tested positive for CWD. It was found in Disease Management Area 3, which includes parts of Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. It marked the first time the disease was documented in free-ranging deer in an area of the state where it had previously only been found in captive deer.

CWD also exists among wild deer in Disease Management Area 2, a part of South Central Pennsylvania. There have been 51 total CWD-positives found in that area since 2012.

“Our response to Pennsylvania’s growing CWD threat must stop this disease,” said Game Commission executive director Bryan Burhans. “There’s too much at stake to consider any other alternative.”