Numerous reports of white-tailed deer being found dead or dying in parts of Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Region 6 have prompted state biologists to enlist the help of landowners and others.
"Folks who are out in the field and notice deer that have recently died from unknown causes are asked to call our office in Glasgow at (406) 228-3700 to report the number of animals and the exact location," said FWP Region 6 Wildlife Program Manager Mark Sullivan.
"We recently started receiving phone calls and reports of suspicious whitetail deer deaths along the Milk River and surrounding areas," Sullivan said. "So far, we’re seeing a number of deer from the Fort Peck and Nashua areas all the way to the Malta area that are dying rather suspiciously. Our wildlife folks have taken samples from several of these deer, and those have been sent to our state lab. We are now awaiting the results of the testing to determine whether they’ve died from epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) or some other traceable cause. With help from landowners and other members of the public, we hope to determine the extent of the incidents."
EHD is an acute, infectious, often-fatal viral disease of some wild ruminants, especially white-tailed deer. The disease, characterized by extensive hemorrhaging, fever, and a resultant urge to be near or even immersed in temperature-controlling fresh water, has been responsible for significant die-offs over the years in the northern United States and southern Canada. An EHD outbreak is also occurring now in a few locations in southeastern Montana.
A similar hemorrhagic disease commonly called bluetongue also occurs throughout the U.S. and Canada, but the two diseases are clinically different. Both diseases can affect mule deer and pronghorn antelope, but not as commonly as white-tailed deer.
Outbreaks of EHD most commonly occur during the summer and early fall, and animals contracting highly virulent strains can die as soon as one to three days after exposure. Along with dead deer, landowners and other members of the public are asked to watch for deer that have lost their fear of humans, may be weak and foaming at the mouth, are circling, have their head or ears down, have pronounced swelling on the head or neck, have diarrhea or are semiconscious.
At this point there is no known treatment or control of these diseases, which researchers say have not been found to affect humans. They are also not known to pose any threat to livestock. EHD is spread by infected midges, so a hard frost that kills these insects ends the spread of any ongoing outbreaks.
Because of the impact this is having on whitetail populations in the Milk River Valley and surrounding areas, and the high likelihood that this could spread and encompass a greater area, Sullivan said 2,000 of the Region's surplus white-tailed deer "B" licenses will now not be sold. He said these licenses may be put back on sale at a later date if it is determined that this die-off was not as extensive as is currently feared.