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Deer disease surfaces in North Dakota a 2nd straight year; Bismarck-Mandan hardest-hit area

Deer disease surfaces in North Dakota a 2nd straight year; Bismarck-Mandan hardest-hit area

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White-tailed deer

White-tailed deer spotted in Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit on Nov. 7, 2017.

North Dakota wildlife officials are monitoring an outbreak of disease in white-tailed deer for a second straight year.

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease -- commonly called EHD -- is a viral disease transmitted by biting gnats. North Dakota's Game and Fish Department last year offered license refunds to more than 9,000 deer hunters after documenting "moderate to significant" deer losses.

“We see a low level of EHD activity most years, but every so often, environmental factors line up to make for a bad season," Game and Fish Wildlife Veterinarian Charlie Bahnson said Friday. "Last year, southwest North Dakota was hit relatively hard by EHD. Right now, it appears that the virus is picking up where it left off, with most cases coming from locations on the edge of 2020’s heavily affected areas.

"The hardest-hit area appears to be a 20-mile radius of the Bismarck-Mandan area, but we are also tracking smaller, localized outbreaks elsewhere in the state,” Bahnson said.

Game and Fish is asking people to report any sick or dead deer, with photos if possible, through an online system at, to help wildlife officials gauge the extent of this year's outbreak.

“In some cases, we may need to collect samples off fresh carcasses, so please notify the department as soon as possible,” Bahnson said.

The gnats can become a problem if wet conditions early in the year create mud flats that dry out later in the year and create perfect breeding areas for the insects. Outbreaks end only after a hard freeze kills off the gnats.

EHD has been present in North Dakota for decades. It impacts white-tailed deer more than mule deer, due to the makeup of the animals. It’s not considered a danger to people.

Compiling hard data on case numbers isn't an exact science because most of the evidence is word-of-mouth from landowners. If there appears to be a large number of cases in an area, state wildlife officials will then sometimes investigate themselves.

"Most reports are singles or maybe two deer. At this point we're well over 50 reports," Bahnson said. "That volume of reports is pretty high."

Game and Fish last year monitored the outbreak for about two weeks before deciding whether to offer license refunds, and Bahnson said that likely will be the scenario this year.

"It's certainly an option that we'll consider," he said. "We're not at the point where we're going to pull that lever right yet."

Deer hunting is immensely popular in North Dakota, and only about 400 hunters last year cashed in their license. There also was an outbreak in 2011, and only about 300 of 13,000 possible hunters requested a refund.

This year's deer gun season is Nov. 5-21.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or


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