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Deer disease outbreak worsens in South Dakota

YANKTON (AP) -- State wildlife officials are eliminating unsold deer hunting licenses in southeastern South Dakota in response to a disease outbreak.

The move affects Bon Homme, Hutchinson, Yankton, Clay, Union and Charles Mix counties, as well as southern Perkins County in the northwestern part of the state. Hunters who already have licenses are being given the option of turning them in for a refund.

Hunters who keep their licenses are being encouraged to consult with landowners in areas where they plan to hunt to determine the impact of epizootic hemorrhagic disease.

"The deer die-offs reported have been local in nature for many areas and not evenly distributed across each county," Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk said in a statement. "Because the impact of EHD can vary, it is essential that hunters check with their local landowner on the status of the deer herd on properties they hunt."

Game, Fish and Parks earlier reduced the number of deer licenses in some western hunting units because of the disease. It is spread by a biting midge and has killed more than 1,000 deer in South Dakota this year.

"It might take a year or two," to restore the deer population, Yankton County Conservation Officer Sam Schelhaas told the Press & Dakotan newspaper. "We might need to cut back on the tag numbers and restrict some hunting. We need to back off for a few years. But deer are resilient. With the help of sportsmen, and getting everybody involved, we can get back (the deer) numbers."