More than 13,000 deer hunters with white-tail tags in 11 western North Dakota hunting units will have the option of getting refunds on deer licenses because of on-going reports of die-offs due to EHD.
Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said monitoring for EHD, or epizootic hemorrhagic disease, has been going on since August when reports of deaths in white-tail deer began coming in.
EHD is a naturally occurring virus spread by a biting midge and is almost always fatal in whitetails. Mule deer rarely are infected and seldom die from the disease.
The first hard frost usually kills the midge, stopping or slowing the spread of EHD.
The units affected are 3B1, 3D1, 3E1, 3F1, 3F2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 4F.
Kreil said in addition, the department is suspending the sale of remaining first-come, first-serve licenses in units 3F1, 3F2 and 4F effective at 5 p.m. Friday.
Kreil said while monitoring has been going on since August, the tipping point in making a decision came with the opener of pheasant season Oct. 8.
"We wanted to know what people were seeing during the opening weekend of pheasant season," he said.
Kreil said landowners also were reporting fewer deer on the landscape throughout the fall.
"While we first received reports of isolated deer deaths in August, loss of deer to this disease appears to have extended through September and into October, and covers a large area of western North Dakota," Kreil said.
Going in this deer season, Kreil said the whitetail population in some parts of the southwest were above management goals and landowners were telling the department there were too many deer.
An early September doe hunt was authorized in some units and came and went largely without notice by most, mainly because of hot weather during the time.
After the pheasant opener, Kreil said reports began coming in from upland game hunters as well as from bow hunters.
He said following the opener, the department received 120 separate reports citing more than 300 deer carcasses being observed.
He said most reports indicated one to three carcasses at a location.
Kreil said there is no way to estimate mortality at this time because of the amount of cover in the areas.
He said officials will have a better idea of the impact of EHD in the areas once harvest surveys and winter aerial surveys are completed.
The clinical signs of EHD are very similar to those in the livestock disease bluetongue.
White-tailed deer develop signs of illness about seven days after exposure.
Its onset is sudden and whitetails usually die within 48-72 hours, Kreil said.
Deer initially lose their appetite and fear of people, grow progressively weaker, often salivate excessively, develop a rapid pulse and respiration rate, and fever.
Sick animals often seek water to lie in to reduce their body temperature before becoming unconscious.
Hemorrhaging and lack of oxygen in the blood results in a bluish mucus in their mouths, hence the name bluetongue.
Kreil said the department made license refunds an option in 2000 because of a similar EHD outbreak.
There were few takers then, he said, and it's likely to be the same this year.
Fewer than 110,000 deer licenses were available for this year's deer season which opens Nov. 4 and runs 16½ days.
Hunters who drew into the affected units have few options because all other hunting units in the state are sold out.
Kreil advised hunters with tags in those units to make contacts in the area.
He said while some units had widespread mortality, some areas had no reports of whitetail deaths.
Hunters who want a refund must return their license to the Game and Fish Department, along with a note requesting a refund because of EHD before Nov. 3.
Envelopes postmarked Nov. 3 will be accepted.
(Reach reporter Brian Gehring at 250-8254 or email@example.com.)