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Southwest Region News Releases

​For Information Contact: ​Release #01-18
​Patrick L. Snickles January 12, 2018
​Information & Education Supervisor F​or Immediate Release​
 Chronic Wasting Disease Open House Announced

BOLIVAR – The Pennsylvania Game Commission will conduct an Open House about chronic wasting disease (CWD) on Wednesday, January 31, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Portage Area High School, 85 Mountain Avenue, Portage, Pa. 15946; in the school cafeteria.

The “Open House” format is designed to maximize opportunities for citizens to access information on the topics that are important to them. There are no formal presentations. Five self-explanatory stations will guide citizens through several topics including: “what is CWD, specific information related to Disease Management Area 2 (DMA2), regulations specific to DMAs, Pennsylvania Game Commission actions taken regarding this important wildlife health issue, and proposed Pennsylvania Game Commission actions related to continued disease surveillance.

Participants may arrive at their convenience between 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Agency staff will be on hand to interact on a one-on-one basis and answer questions. An opportunity will be provided for participants to provide written comments after participating in the “Open House.”

Chronic Wasting Disease is a member of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) family of diseases. Once contracted, it is fatal to cervids including deer and elk.

​For Information Contact: ​Release #12-17
​Patrick L. Snickles November 27, 2017
​Information & Education Supervisor F​or Immediate Release​
 Southwest Region Forester Neil Itle Selected To Receive National Wild Turkey Federation Award

BOLIVAR – The Pennsylvania Game Commission is pleased to announce Assistant Regional Forester Neil Itle has been selected as the recipient of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Joe Kurz Wildlife Manager of the Year award for 2017. This award is named in honor of Joe Kurz, a former Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife chief whose leadership was instrumental in improving wildlife management as well as wild turkey trap and transfer programs.

Itle began his career with the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 2003 as a field forester in the Southwest Region. In 2010 he was promoted to assistant regional forester which expanded his duties to include employee supervision and mentoring, providing forest management recommendations and implementation guidance, contract management and prescribed fire coordination for the entire region.

Itle has been integrally involved with the development of comprehensive management plans for state game lands across ten counties in the Southwest Region. He focuses on improving degraded stands using a combination of silvicultural techniques, prescribed fire and by minimizing or eradicating competing vegetation and invasive plants. Itle also contributed to the cover mapping and creation of GIS layers for about 190,000 across forty-five different state game lands.

Furthermore, Itle has been instrumental in the development and implementation of the Southwest Region’s prescribed fire program from its infancy. He oversees all Southwest Region prescribed fire operations and participates in practically every burn. Additional prescribed fire related duties include plan writing and unit layout, pack testing and related training as well as equipment inventory management.

Itle often speaks to various audiences including university and secondary education students, sportsmen’s clubs and other professional groups and community organizations.

Itle grew up in Martinsburg, Blair County. He is a 1997 graduate of Central High School and attended the Pennsylvania State University, graduating in 2001 with a Forest Science degree. Itle currently resides with his wife and three daughters in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

​For Information Contact: ​Release #11-17
​Patrick L. Snickles November 7, 2017
​Information & Education Supervisor F​or Immediate Release​
 Multiple Charges Filed Against South Beaver Township Man and
Ohio State Juvenile In Beaver County Poaching Case

BOLIVAR – The Pennsylvania Game Commission has filed charges against a Beaver County resident and an Ohio state juvenile resident as a result of a deer poaching incident in Beaver County. Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) Michael Yeck filed multiple charges against Eric Bailes, 19, South Beaver Township and a 17 year old Ohio state juvenile.

The charges stem from two nights of multiple deer poaching by the defendants last month primarily in and around the South Beaver Township area. Information received through the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Operation Game Thief led to the investigation which resulted in at least ten illegally taken deer by the defendants. WCO Yeck was assisted by WCO Matt Kramer, WCO Thomas Kline, Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer (DWCO) Christian Shallcross and DWCO James Henkemeyer. During the investigation, the officers discovered the juvenile operated the vehicle and shot the deer while Bailes rode along to assist with finding and retrieving the deer. Most of the deer were poorly processed with only the choice meats removed.

WCO Yeck, after consulting with the Beaver County District Attorney’s office, has filed charges with the Magisterial District Judge Douglas Loughner’s office in Chippewa Township. The criminal complaint against Bailes contains the following charges:

  1. Unlawful killing or taking of big game – six counts, felony third degree, with fines up to $15,000 and up to 36 months of imprisonment. Loss of hunting privileges for fifteen years.
  2. Unlawful killing or taking of big game – two counts, misdemeanor first degree, fines up to $10,000 and could be sentenced up to 18 months of imprisonment. Loss of hunting privileges for ten years.
  3. Unlawful killing or taking of big game – two counts, misdemeanor ungraded, fines up to $3000 and could be sentenced up to 6 months of imprisonment. Loss of hunting privileges for five years.
  4. Unlawful use of lights while hunting – two counts, summary fifth degree, fines not less than $100 or more than $200.

The criminal complaint against the 17 year old Ohio state juvenile, which will be handled by Beaver County Juvenile Services, contains the following charges:

  1. Unlawful killing or taking of big game – six counts, felony third degree, fines up to $15,000 and could be sentenced to up to 36 months of imprisonment. Loss of hunting privileges for fifteen years.
  2. Unlawful killing or taking of big game – two counts, misdemeanor first degree, fines up to $10,000 and could be sentenced up to 18 months of imprisonment. Loss of hunting privileges for ten years.
  3. Unlawful killing or taking of big game – two counts, misdemeanor ungraded, fines up to $3000 and could be sentenced up to 6 months of imprisonment. Loss of hunting privileges for five years.
  4. Unlawful use of lights while hunting – two counts, summary fifth degree, fines not less than $100 or more than $200.
  5. Loaded firearms in vehicles (not in motion) – two counts, summary fifth degree, fines not less than $100 or more than $200.
  6. Control of property (driving a motorized vehicle on cooperator’s property) – two counts, summary fifth degree, fines not less than $100 or more than $200.

If you witness a wildlife crime against big game (deer, bear turkey or elk) or a species that is protected, endangered or threatened; call Operation Game Thief’s toll-free hotline at 1-888-PGC-8001 or fill out an “Operation Game Thief Reporting Form” online at the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website: Violations can be reported 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Calls to the Operation Game Thief hotline are answered by a secure recording device. You can remain anonymous however it is beneficial to provide your contact information so an officer can ask follow-up questions. Callers can still remain confidential, however, those who wish to claim any monetary reward must provide contact information. Other violations should be reported to the regional office serving the county in which the violation is taking place as soon as possible.

​For Information Contact: ​Release #10-17
​Patrick L. Snickles October 17, 2017
​Information & Education Supervisor F​or Immediate Release​
 Controlled Grassland Fire Planned For State Game Lands 82 In Somerset County

BOLIVAR – The Pennsylvania Game Commission plans to conduct a controlled burn on State Game Lands 82 in Larimer Township, Somerset County on Wednesday, October 18, 2017. Based on weather conditions and moisture in the ground and vegetation, the Burn Boss has given the go-ahead for this burn. Currently, the warm season grasses in these fields are too dense. A controlled burn will thin the warm season grasses and remove old thatch, making it more accessible to wildlife. Through the use of controlled fire, the Game Commission is able to promote diverse plant communities, provide improved food and protective cover, as well as create nesting areas for numerous wildlife species. Land Management Group Supervisor Travis Anderson stated “Although fields will be burnt there will still be cover left for pheasants.”

During the controlled burn, access to the site will be restricted and only people directly associated with the burn will be allowed access at or near the site. Trained staff will be on hand with numerous pieces of fire equipment and water resources. All necessary local fire and emergency personnel will be notified in advance. As a result of the burn, the public may expect to see smoke between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

For more information about controlled burns, please go to the Pennsylvania Prescribed Fire Council website at For more information about wildlife and habitat management, please visit the Game Commission’s website at

​For Information Contact: ​Release #9-17
​Patrick L. Snickles October 12, 2017
​Information & Education Supervisor F​or Immediate Release​
 Canine Distemper Virus Confirmed In Ross Township Raccoons

BOLIVAR - The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Allegheny County Health Department recently confirmed that five strange-acting raccoons removed from Ross Township in September have tested positive for canine distemper virus. The samples were collected by the Ross Township Police Department and the Humane Animal Rescue Wildlife Center, and tested for canine distemper by the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS), a regional diagnostic facility in Athens, Georgia. The Allegheny County Health Department also tested samples for rabies.

“Canine distemper is an often fatal disease caused by canine distemper virus. It is a common cause of mortality in several species of wildlife, such as gray foxes, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. Clinically, the virus can cause disease with symptoms that appear identical to rabies” said Dr. Justin Brown, Wildlife Veterinarian with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The raccoons were collected in Ross Township after public attention raised concerns about unusual behavior among raccoons and ground hogs. Local law enforcement euthanized almost 40 suspect animals in August and September. When they became aware of the situation, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Allegheny County Health Department, with coordination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program, initiated a plan to collect affected wildlife from local authorities and submit them for disease testing. Wildlife Services also provided a freezer to the police department that will allow collection of non-rabies exposure suspect wildlife for storage and rabies surveillance testing in the future.

Two separate testing methods (fluorescent antibody and histopathology) confirmed positive results for canine distemper in five raccoons. In addition, these five raccoons and seven other raccoons from the Ross Township area were tested for rabies. All twelve animals tested negative for rabies.

Canine distemper is a highly contagious and serious animal disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of several wildlife species, including raccoons, foxes, skunks, and coyotes. Canine distemper is also an important disease of domestic dogs. The virus is shed in most bodily excretions from infected animals and does not survive long outside of the host. Consequently, transmission typically requires close contact with an infected animal or their recent environment. The disease in domestic dogs is preventable through vaccination.

While canine distemper virus does not affect people, the Ross Township Police would like to remind the public to make sure their pets are current with vaccinations against the disease, and have their required rabies vaccinations.

Initial media reports had suggested the unusual wildlife behavior might be related to an oral rabies vaccine (ORV) distributed in the area by Wildlife Services in conjunction with the Allegheny County Health Department. However, the ORV baits distributed in Allegheny County cannot cause rabies and are not harmful to wildlife or domestic animals. They have been shown to be safe in more than 60 animal species, including raccoons, dogs and cats. ORV bait distribution has been conducted in western Pennsylvania since 2001, as part of a larger regional effort to prevent the spread of and eventually eliminate raccoon-variant rabies from the eastern U.S.

Background Information:

Pennsylvania Game Commission, canine distemper: Diseases/Pages/CanineDistemper.aspx

For additional information concerning wildlife rabies or the USDA Wildlife Services’ ORV program, please visit or contact WS toll free at 1-866-4USDAWS (1-866-487-3297).

​For Information Contact: ​Release #8-17
​Patrick L. Snickles October 11, 2017
​Information & Education Supervisor F​or Immediate Release​
 Game Commission Announces Pheasant Releases For Southwest Region

BOLIVAR – Pennsylvanlia Game Commission Southwest Region Director Thomas A. Fazi today announced agency employees began releasing ring-necked pheasants throughout the 10-county region. Agency-raised birds were released for the junior pheasant hunt scheduled Oct. 7 to 14.

Fazi noted that the Game Commission’s statewide pheasant stocking effort will be approximately 168,230 birds for the upcoming small game season. The Southwest Region’s total share of pheasants is 36,500 (27,560 males and 8,940 females), which includes 2,460 birds (1940 males and 520 females) for the junior season. A listing of stocking locations for the junior hunt can be found on pages 50 to 52 of the 2017-18 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is available online at

The regular pheasant season begins Saturday, Oct. 21 and concludes on Saturday, Nov. 25. Late season pheasant hunting dates are Dec. 11 to 23, and Dec. 26 to Feb. 28. Pre-season stocking of pheasants will take place prior to Oct. 21, followed by four in-season stockings, as well as a late season stocking.

Hunters are reminded that pheasant harvest is restricted by sex in the various Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). Please check the seasons and corresponding WMUs on page 46 of the 2017-18 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. WMU maps can be found on pages 23 to 28 of the digest, and on the Game Commission’s website at (choose “Wildlife” on the top of the homepage, then click on the “Habitat Management” and select the “Wildlife Management Units” of interest). Pheasants are stocked on state game lands with suitable pheasant habitat.


The Game Commission has added an option which identifies state game lands and those state parks and federal lands with suitable habitat that receive pheasant stockings. Click on “Pheasant Allocation” under the Quick Clicks tab on the Game Commission’s website ( for a listing of stocking locations.

The following are the pheasant releases for the fall 2017-18 small game season in the Southwest Region.


To Connect with Wildlife, visit the Game Commission at the following:

​For Information Contact: ​Release #7-17
​Patrick L. Snickles September 26, 2017
​Information & Education Supervisor F​or Immediate Release​
 Southwest Region Hosts Public State Game Lands Tour

BOLIVAR – The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Southwest Region will be hosting a public tour of State Game Lands 108 in northern Cambria County on Sunday, October 8 from 12 – 4 p.m. State Game Lands 108 encompasses 23,086 acres. This tour will be a 7.5-mile, self-guided, one-way, driving tour and will highlight mountainous terrain and fall foliage on the Allegheny Front.

Items of interest along the tour route include a rehabilitated strip-mined area, which has been converted to small-game habitat. The area also serves as a study area for grassland nesting birds, including the Henslow’s sparrow, a grassland species of special concern. Northern harriers and endangered short-eared owls also inhabit the study area. Also highlighted are tree and shrub identification, wildlife habitat food plots and a deer exclosure fence. Each tour participant will be provided a brochure with directions and information about features along the tour route

The tour begins at the game lands access road three-tenths of a mile north of Frugality, along state Route 53, in White Township. Watch for the sign. The tour will conclude on state Route 865, near Blandburg in Reade Township.

Pennsylvania Game Commission land management, forestry and law enforcement personnel will be on hand to discuss the various habitat improvement projects on this state game lands and to answer questions.

Hope to see you there!

​For Information Contact: ​Release #6-17
​Patrick L. Snickles August 18, 2017
​Information & Education Supervisor F​or Immediate Release​
 Game Commission Investigating Deer Deaths In Southwestern Pennsylvania

BOLIVAR – More than 150 white-tailed deer died recently in Beaver, Washington and Allegheny counties, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission suspects Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is the cause.

The Game Commission is investigating the deaths. A deer that died in Greene Township, Beaver County was tested and confirmed EHDV serotype 2-positive. Results are pending on other samples collected from deer in Allegheny and Washington counties.

“While we are waiting for additional test results, we do suspect EHD, based on field signs we are seeing during our investigations.” said Dr. Justin Brown, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian.

The Game Commission will continue to gather information and samples from reported deer mortalities throughout the rest of the state. Due to decomposition, samples must be collected within 24 hours of the animal’s death in order to be viable for testing.

Deer contract EHD through the bite of small biting flies or midges. EHD can kill the animal within 5 to 10 days but it is not spread from deer to deer. While EHD is not infectious to humans, it is important to note that signs of EHD can be observed with other diseases of deer. However there is no relationship between EHD and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

Brown also pointed out that EHD should be curtailed with the first hard frost, which will kill the insects that are spreading the disease. He noted that EHD, unlike CWD, is a seasonal disease that occurs sporadically in Pennsylvania. While deer mortality can be significant locally during outbreaks there is no evidence that EHD can lead to long-term negative impacts on deer populations.

Game Commission Southwest Region Director Thomas Fazi is urging residents to report sightings of sick looking or dead deer, which are often found by water, by calling the Southwest Region office at 724-238-9523.

Director Fazi also expressed his gratitude to the general public for their vigilance in reporting these sightings to our agency so the Game Commission can continue to respond in a timely manner.

The Southwest Region serves Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Residents in other counties are urged to call their respective regional office.

EHD is a significant disease of white-tailed deer caused by two related viruses; Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (EHDV) and Bluetongue Virus (BTV). Both EHDV and BTV are further categorized into different serotypes that are designated by a number (e.g. EHDV 1, EHDV 2, etc.).

For more information on EHD, go to the Game Commission’s website ( Put your cursor on “Wildlife” in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then put your cursor on “Wildlife-Related Diseases” in the drop down menu listing, then choose “Wildlife Disease Reference Library” from the next drop down menu and look for “Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease.”