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No, The Sky Isn’t Falling

Over the past couple of decades, I have attempted to use this space that I have been graciously given to inform, share and give insight, mostly anything to do with fishing and hunting.

On the occasion when I feel the need or the firing desire in my stomach, I get up on the soap box — but for the most part I try to stay positive.

Well folks, this week isn’t going to be so positive. But I ask if you don’t skim through the following words but read them all the way through, then do your own research. Hopefully, this will help you understand what the sky is falling is all about.

The first time I witnessed first-hand the sky is falling was a decade ago in South Dakota. I was part of groups that were headed west to take part in some spring turkey hunting action. While we were cursing back roads to next spring gobbler ambush.

My guide slammed the brakes on his F150 and asked us to get out. As I walked over to the small watering hole, I saw something that I never thought or hoped I would ever witness. As I jumped back into the truck, it was just a short drive until we abruptly stopped again and walked over to see what was sticking out from under a large bush.

The first thing I noticed in these two whitetail deer — both does — was the size of the head, tongue, eyes and neck. I had witnessed first-hand the death of two whitetail deer for epizootic hemorrhagic disease, otherwise known as EHD.

EHD is transmitted by biting midges called Culicoides. These little creatures travel from deer to deer biting them and then moving on..

This disease is nearly always fatal in whitetail deer. It has been found that some deer do actually develop immunity to the virus. There is no known reason why that is the case in a handful of whitetails.

A lot has been learned about EHD in recent years and in many cases it’s not “the sky is falling” as it once was thought. What it does is kill those that are affected, in most situations, which means that herds that are affected do get curtailed. It doesn’t wipe out a herd as decades ago was believed.

Make no doubt about it, it does affect deer herds, likewise affecting hunting and hunters. What that effect is varies depending on the herd and its location.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reported this week that three deer in Southampton, Suffolk County, tested positive for bluetongue, which is closely related to the EHD virus and is transmitted in the same way. This is the first time the bluetongue virus was detected in New York deer. It was detected in several other mid-Atlantic coast states this year.

DEC also reported that two whitetailed deer in the town of Schodack, Rensselaer County, found dead in late August, and one deer in Southampton, Suffolk County, confirmed positive for EHD. These are in addition to two deer in the town of Dover Plains, Dutchess County, that died from EHD in mid-August.

EHD virus and BT virus are often fatal to deer. EHD and BT outbreaks are most common in late summer and early fall when midges are abundant. Diseases caused by the viruses are usually not spread directly from deer to deer, and humans cannot be infected by deer or bites from midges.

EHD and BT cause similar symptoms in deer including fever, difficulty breathing, dehydration, swelling of the head, neck and tongue, attraction to water and rapid death. Frequently, infected deer will seek out water sources and many succumb in or near a water source. Once clinical signs of EHD or BT infection are apparent, deer usually die within 36 hours.

There is no treatment or means to prevent EHD or BT in free-ranging deer. The dead deer do not serve as a source of infection for other animals. Both EHD and BT can infect cattle and sheep; cattle seldom exhibit signs of disease, but sheep can suffer severe disease and death from BT infection.

The EHD virus was first confirmed in New York in 2007 with relatively small outbreaks in Albany, Rensselaer and Niagara counties, and in Rockland County in 2011. In 2020, a large EHD outbreak occurred in the lower Hudson Valley, centered in Putnam and Orange counties, with reports from the public of approximately 1,500 dead deer. In 2021, the outbreak shifted and DEC received more than 2,000 reports of dead deer primarily in Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia, Oswego and Jefferson counties.

EHD and BT outbreaks do not have a significant long-term effect on deer populations, but deer mortality can be intense in small geographic areas. EHD is endemic in the southern states where there are annual outbreaks, so some southern deer have developed immunity. In the northeast, EHD outbreaks occur sporadically and deer in New York have little or no immunity to this virus. Consequently, most EHD-infected deer in New York are expected to die. In the north, the first hard frost kills the midges that transmit the disease, ending the EHD and BT outbreak.

With this latest announcement/findings in New York state, this will be a change for sportsmen. What this means for the future of the whitetail deer is that we have been hunting for years, is currently unknown. What I can share is this, in states where EHD has been for years, there are still plenty of whitetails and they are thriving.

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