BELLE FOURCHE | More than 100 whitetail deer found dead in and near streams in southern Butte County caused the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department to hold back unsold licenses in the county and some other deer-hunting units.
Bill Eastman, a Belle Fourche-based state game warden, said that since his first call Aug. 14 about a sick deer, he has seen at least 100 whitetail carcasses in the southern part of Butte County.
He said he hasn't seen all the deer struck down by an insect-carried virus. Outbreaks have been spotty.
"It has gotten significantly worse in southern Butte County on a localized level," he said.
EHD — scientifically known as epizootic hemorrhagic disease — is in the deer population most years, Eastman said. "The extent of it depends on the year, and this year is just playing to be a significant EHD year for our area."
After an infected midge bites a whitetail deer, Eastman said, "Those deer could be dead within hours to a few days."
"It's internal hemorrhaging, as well as severe fever," Eastman said. "A lot of these dead whitetail deer can be found near or in water … because of high fever and trying to cool off."
Dry weather and drying stream banks may have brought deer herds together where the small insect carrier breeds.
The midge lays eggs in receded mud banks, Eastman said. "This year, there obviously are a lot of receded mud banks."
He said, "A lot of the calls that I have taken have been in Spearfish Creek, the Redwater River drainage, Hay Creek and the Belle Fourche River."
Eastman said the virus does not infect humans, and people are not at risk from handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer or by being bitten by insects carrying the virus.
"Exposure to people has not become a concern," he said, "But some cattle in eastern South Dakota have shown signs of EHD. It does not kill cattle; they just show signs of the virus."
However, he said, hunters should be aware that an infected deer could develop a bacterial infection or abscesses, which makes them unsuitable for consumption.
EHD is similar in symptoms to the bluetongue virus, which can affect domesticated animals, but studies so far have not seen it cause problems in domestic livestock.
"All blood samples that have been tested are tested for EHD and bluetongue," Eastman said. "All deer tested in Butte County are EHD and not bluetongue."
EHD can affect all wild ruminants but doesn't seem to be fatal for mule deer, wild sheep or elk.
Frost kills the midges that carry the virus, Eastman said, so the disease has usually run its course by the first hard frost and opening of hunting season.
The West River deer season runs Nov. 10 through Nov. 25, Eastman said. He said license holders who believe whitetail populations are too reduced for hunting can request a refund for their license fee before the hunting season begins.
"Hunters desiring a refund should send their license, their tags, to the GFP licensing office," he said. Write to 20641 S.D. Highway 1806, Fort Pierre, SD 57521, or call the GFP for more information on the program.
To report a deer that appears to be sick, he said, "We encourage you to contact your local game and fish office because we are documenting as many of these as we can."
Mule deer and antelope populations also appear down in northwest South Dakota, Eastman said, but that appears to be from drought conditions rather than disease.