Deer-killing disease spreads in South DakotaHutchinson County among hardest-hit East River areas.
By: Chris Huber, The Daily Republic
Whitetail deer are being found dead across South Dakota, and officials believe a virus is to blame. “We are getting reports of dead deer almost daily from across the state,” said Andy Lindbloom, senior big game biologist for the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks.
In Hutchinson County, the area with the worst of the problem in the eastern half of the state, about 50 dead deer have been found. It’s believed the deer succumbed to Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD, though only one instance of the disease has been confirmed. The test for EHD needs to be administered within 24 hours of the death of the animal. “It’s possible that some of those 50 died of other causes as well, but it looks like EHD. We just won’t know for sure,” said Ron Schauer, GF&P regional wildlife specialist. EHD is a non-contagious, insect-born viral disease that cannot be spread to humans. The virus is transmitted by midges such as flies or gnats and primarily infects sheep but can also infect goats, cattle, antelope and whitetail deer and is more severe during times of hot temperatures and drought.
Symptoms will begin to show within a week after a whitetail deer is bitten and infected. Infected whitetails are less fearful of humans, salivate excessively, exhibit peeling or sloughing of the hoof walls, lose their appetite and do not forage for food.
EHD-induced death can directly come from hemorrhages of the heart or other organs and indirectly from inadequate nutrition and starvation. EHD is similar to another disease found in deer called Blue Tongue. In both cases, hemorrhages and lack of oxygen in the blood results in a blue appearance of the mouth.
The dead deer will often be found by a fresh water source.
Last year, approximately 1,300 EHD deer deaths were reported throughout the entire year in South Dakota, but only one in Region 3, the southeastern part of the state.
“Generally, this is a disease we see in central and western South Dakota, but with the conditions we have had we are seeing it more in the eastern part as well,” Lindbloom said.
“One of the reasons we are monitoring the situation so closely is we need to make a decision as to hunting season in these areas,” Schauer added.
Mark Bauer operates Martin Creek Outfitters, a hunting lodge near Freeman specializing in trophy archery whitetail deer hunts. He said the disease has taken a toll on his business.
“I canceled all my hunts for this year,” Bauer said, noting he had 13 booked for the upcoming season. “It’s pretty devastating.”
He has found 23 dead deer on approximately 2,500 acres of his hunting property, many of which he believes were caused by EHD. He estimates it will take three years before the deer herd on his property gets to a point where he can start booking hunts again.
“I started contacting my local CO (conservation officer) the middle of August to tell him about the problem in hopes they would reduce licenses for the county,” Bauer said.
Currently, 800 tags are scheduled to be handed out to hunters in Hutchinson County for this year’s East River firearms season, which begins in November.
“If we let all those hunters in here, that is really going to decimate the population at a time when it is already hurting,” Bauer said. “We need to minimize the damage even if it means the state is going to lose some money.
“I would really hate to see it if they put revenue before resources.”
Lindbloom said no decision has been made on whether or not to drop licenses in some areas.
“That is something we will continue to monitor and work with our professionals on the ground, and public input to see if the hardest hit areas warrant a reduction in licenses,” Lindbloom said.
“We have given refunds in the past. Even though that hasn’t happened in a while, it’s a possibility.”
Because tests must be administered so quickly, if the state hopes to understand the scope of the problem it needs the public to report any deer believed to have the disease.
People who see sick deer or find several dead deer in one locale are asked to contact their local conservation officers or call the Pierre GF&P office at (605) 773-5913.
In neighboring Nebraska, there have been 1,700 dead deer pulled from fields in 65 counties so far this year, many of which were believed to be caused by EHD. Officials there believe this is the worst outbreak of the disease in 50 years.
During 2011, in the Milk River region of Montana, an area famous for its large number of white-tail deer, EHD wiped out nearly 80 percent of the deer herd.
Schauer said the problem in South Dakota is nowhere near that level but could continue to worsen.
“The only thing that would stop the disease from spreading is a hard frost,” Schauer said. “That will kill the midge that spreads the disease.”