Wildlife officials search for cause of deer deaths

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — State wildlife officials say they still haven’t confirmed why nearly 200 whitetail deer have died near Frenchtown but suspect epizootic hemorrhagic disease.

“We’ve not found it out here before, and that’s why we’re really taking a close look at it,” said Neil Anderson, a lab supervisor with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “It’s usually found east of the Rocky Mountains. We haven’t seen a (Montana) case west of the Rocky Mountain Front since records started in the 1990s.”

The disease is transmitted by biting midges or gnats. Authorities say the disease isn’t contagious and is only known to be spread by insects.

Dead deer have been reported along the Clark Fork River between Harpers Bridge and Erskine Fishing Access site starting about two weeks ago

John Ensign of FWP said deer suffering from the ailment tend to head for water.

“It becomes fairly obvious and that’s alarming for folks – the concentration of dead critters along rivers,” Ensign told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/1fniaU8 ). “Does that mean there’s a bunch back in the hills? No, they tend to concentrate down there by the water, so it looks worse than it is.”

Officials on Friday said it will take about 10 days to identify what killed the deer. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is common throughout the Great Plains.

“EHD seems to be an annual event,” said Ensign. “We typically get reports at this time of year of dead and dying deer. There tends to be a hot spot here and a hot spot there, clean across the region. Every five to seven years, we get an outbreak that’s more widespread and extensive.”

Ensign said he’s sometimes met hunters who shot deer that have damaged hooves, an indication of the disease.

“There’s nothing wrong with the meat, and it doesn’t affect humans,” Ensign said. “I’ve been here almost 30 years, and it’s a regular occurrence. You’ve got to wait for the first frost. That kills the gnats and things slow down.”

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

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