It shouldn’t have taken three days for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to change its mind about releasing 2,400 pheasants that were infected with the bacterial disease avian cholera.
It should’ve been immediate.
The disease can infect most species of birds, especially waterfowl. It’s transmitted through contact — either with other infected birds, with feces or contaminated food and water.
It can cause significant die-offs and has been documented in numerous states, mostly those to the west. In Pennsylvania, the disease has been found on poultry farms but has yet to be documented in the wild.
Let’s hope it never is, as there is simply too much to risk.
That’s why the Game Commission shouldn’t have even considered releasing the infected birds, even after they were to undergo antibiotic treatments.
According to the PGC’s website, avian cholera is the most significant infectious disease of wild waterfowl in North America. Single outbreaks can kill thousands of birds, and most species are susceptible.
It’s almost the bird equivalent of chronic wasting disease in deer, although it does appear to exceed its mammalian counterpart in the sheer number of deaths.
Still, we don’t have avian cholera in the wild here in Pennsylvania, and its important that it remains that way.
The agency issued a release detailing the cholera outbreak on Dec. 17. On Dec. 20, another release came out announcing the infected birds will not be released, and instead destroyed.
It was the right decision, even if it wasn’t the first one.
Still, I can somewhat understand the agency taking a few days to rethink things. Pheasants are expensive to raise — costing the PGC a little more than $20 per bird. With 2,400 pheasants infected, the agency had approximately $50,000 on the line.
Another reason why the agency may have delayed its ultimate decision may have something to do with the benefit that the pheasant releases provide.
They are significant.
I recently received an email from a hunter who took two youth hunters out over their Christmas break from school to hunt stocked pheasants. The dogs found birds, the young hunters had plenty of action and they can’t wait to do it again.
Another hunt told me about a successful hunt he and his partners had recently near Francis Walter Dam. They flushed about eight pheasants, he said, and for the first time in years his dog had the chance to point pheasants.
“He did not break point once. That was worth the price of admission,” the excited hunter said.
And that is why the pheasant program is so important, even in light of the recent disease issue.
Creating opportunities and getting people excited about hunting again. That is the most important objective of the pheasant program, and one wonders how many hunters lost out due to the 2,400 birds not being released.
But in the end, the risk of introducing avian cholera into the wild was just too great.
There was just far too much to lose.