Large numbers of white-tailed deer die in North Dakota due to EHD

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 7:09 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Along the Missouri River, especially to the north and south of Bismarck, people are finding dead white-tailed deer.

“First round combining corn, I found six dead deer laying along the edge of the field” said Burleigh County resident James Schmidt.

Hunters and landowners say it’s unprecedented.

“We actually had a real healthy population of a lot of old deer too and now sometimes you go a week, and you won’t even see one deer,” added Schmidt.

Schmidt’s neighbor says he’s seen about 30 dead deer since September.

White-tailed deer are susceptible to Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD for short. If they’re bit by an infected gnat called a midge, deer can quickly develop a fever. They often die.

“It’s so fast acting that, you know, if you are hunting or you see an animal that looks or acts normal, it is quite unlikely it is infected with this virus,” said Dr. Charlie Bahnson, Game and Fish wildlife veterinarian.

The disease is not considered dangerous to people. Hunters, however, are quite concerned and can apply for refunds through ND Game and Fish on deer-hunting licenses in 22 units.

“When we set licenses the next subsequent years it will depend on environmental conditions, survival of deer, and the fact that this disease set back the population from where it was,” said Casey Anderson, Game and Fish wildlife chief.

Game and Fish continues to monitor the outbreak. They’ve had around 1,000 cases reported so far, but say it is likely a far greater number.

There’s some good news.

“What we do know from studying this virus across the country for a good long while now is that it does operate in cycles and deer populations do recover,” added Dr. Bahnson.

The only thing that can stop the current outbreak of deaths is a deep freeze that kills the midges.

Wardens ask that people who find dead deer to file a report on the North Dakota Game and Fish website. The disease can also affect other animals like mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and moose, but wardens say those populations are not at risk like white-tailed deer.

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