White-tailed deer hunters in eastern Montana will have to scramble for licenses this season.
The number of “B” licenses for antlerless white-tailed deer in the region has been reduced for the 2011 hunting seasons from 5,000 to 2,000, because of a tough winter on the animals, followed by a disease outbreak.
State wildlife biologists have determined that epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), has been killing white-tailed deer in northeastern Montana, according to a Fish, Wildlife and Parks release on Friday.
EHD is an infectious viral illness spread by midges, which often is fatal to certain ruminants, including white-tailed and mule deer and pronghorns. It is similar to bluetongue, which can affect the same species.
The timing is bad for would-be hunters. Montana’s general bow season starts Saturday, Sept. 3.
Earlier this month, samples taken from deer found dead in Yellowstone, Phillips and Valley Counties were sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study laboratory. The test results confirmed that “EHD is definitely at work in eastern Montana,” the release stated.
White-tailed deer, which biologists also suspect died of EHD, were found along the Musselshell River, Flatwillow Creek and Crooked Creek in Petroleum County and in Musselshell and Golden Valley Counties and along the Missouri River as far west as Fort Benton.
One mule deer is being tested. Laboratory results from those samples still are pending.
Earlier, the number of antlerless 699-00 “B” licenses—which can be used all across Region 6—was reduced from 5,000 to 4,000 for the 2011 hunting seasons because of the impact of the severe winter on white-tailed deer populations in the region. Now, the number of the antlerless licenses has dropped by another 2,000.
The latest reduction is only because of the anticipated impact on the white-tailed deer population, not because of human health risks, the agency specified. EHD is not believed to affect humans.
The full impacts of the recent die-offs of whitetails are not yet known, according to the agency. There is no treatment or known cure, although cold weather will curb outbreaks by killing the midges.
The effect of EHD, if any, on other animal species remains undetermined by scientists.
In North America, EHD has not been proven to spread to domestic livestock, a federal report states.
However, researchers demonstrated in a 2007 Turkish study that certain strains of the illness can spread to cattle.
Last year, scientists at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colo., published the results of serum studies after the deaths of captive white-tailed deer from EHD virus (EHDV).
Blood samples taken from the facility’s captive bison, elk, cattle, and goats before and after the outbreak showed that that all those species could neutralize the virus. None of them developed symptoms aside from the white-tailed deer.
“The roles that elk, bison, cattle, and goats might play in the epidemiology of EHDV in a close-contact multispecies situation remain unknown,” their report concluded.
A multi-state wildlife agency report on EHD indicates the disease has been documented in wild white-tailed deer, mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, and pronghorn, although susceptibility varies among species.
First documented in the U.S. in a 1955 New Jersey outbreak, EHD-related game deaths have occurred in the Rocky Mountain, mid-Atlantic and southeastern states, as well as in Canada.
Symptoms of EHD include fever, hemorrhaging, circling, foaming at the mouth, a strong attraction to water, and swollen head and neck.
Sightings of deer that are dead, obviously sick and weak or apparently unafraid of humans should be reported to the Glasgow, Mont., FWP office at 406-228-3700.
Kate Schwab is a New West intern.