Have a meeting to talk about property taxes going up, and you'll be lucky to get 50 taxpayers to attend.

Have a meeting to talk about anything related to deer hunting, and there won't be an empty seat in the room.

Maybe that's the reverse of what one might reasonably expect, but it's the way it is.

The lesson learned? Deer hunters take their issues seriously, while many taxpayers have become complacent about taxation to the point of narcolepsy (uncontrolled slumber).

Me? I am more concerned about property taxes than hunting. But I realize I'm living in the minority here in York County.

I am not now, nor have I ever been a hunter.

I've got no issue with hunting, though I admit I'm less enthusiastic about hunting when the hunter doesn't consume the meat from the animal he/she kills.

While I don't hunt, I do have a interest and concern for the deer herd in this state -- in every state. I believe all humans have an obligation to protect and maintain a healthy deer herd for reasons that go well beyond the interests of hunting.

Nevertheless, I do recognize that hunting is a big deal no matter where one lives in this country -- York County is no more or less intense about hunting than anywhere else -- and when it's threatened in any way, hunters will make their thoughts known.

So it wasn't unexpected that about 200 people, mostly deer hunters, would show up at a meeting last Thursday night at the York County Expo Center, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and other state officials.

The subject? White-tailed deer and chronic wasting disease.

Talk about gun control, gun laws, restricting the hunting season, altering licensing requirements, the successes and/or failures of the Pa. Game Commission or any of a number of hunting-related issues, and hunters will be quick to react.

Two cases of chronic wasting disease have already been found in one captive-deer farm outside New Oxford, but none so far in the wild deer herd in Pennsylvania.

Deer hunters have been quick to recognize the implications, however.

CWD represents an enormous potential to impact their sport in a bad way. And they know it. Or, at least, the serious deer hunters know it.

So hunters showed up looking for answers to their questions. Many of them don't trust the Pa. Game Commission, but they met with them anyway. The deer herd in this state is under attack by a disease that many hunters had never heard about.

Now it's hitting too close for comfort.

Chronic wasting disease in deer, elk and moose can be devastating. Look at a map prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and you'll see almost no evidence of chronic wasting disease in wild deer east of the Mississippi River, except for a couple of small areas in Maryland, New York and West Virginia just last year.

A USDA map showing the disease in captive deer doesn't even indicate the latest findings in York and Adams counties.

In fact, it's only been found in wild free-ranging herds in parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, South Dakota, Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. But it's gradually been edging closer and closer to Pennsylvania.

It was only a matter of time before Pennsylvania got hit. And now it has.

The disease is progressive and always fatal in deer. It's spread from animal to animal by direct contact or indirect contact with soil or other surfaces infected with the disease. It affects the central nervous system, as well as the peripheral nervous system, so ultimately it can be found in muscle tissue and the meat of an animal.

So with that in mind, and based on an abundance of caution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommends that "as a precaution, hunters should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent."

Good enough for me. But then, I don't eat deer meat anyway.

It's the hunters and their families who are going to have to make this important decision. To eat or not to eat, that will be the question.

The state is trying to help, of course, by quarantining deer farms -- seven, so far -- in York and Adams counties. And it's setting up testing sites where every deer killed in a predetermined section of northern York and Adams counties can be tested for CWD the day it's harvested.

Which raises the question -- why aren't the deer killed all the way down to the Mason-Dixon Line being checked for CWD, since we know there was a case in the wild deer herd in northern Maryland just last year?

Regardless, most hunters are going to cooperate with the state game commission because they know the importance of nipping this thing in the bud if they can.

Deer hunting in this state depends on it.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.