Over 100 Crawford County deer suspected dead from EHD

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This sickly deer eventually died—one of the first confirmed cases of EHD in Crawford County, according to hunter Troy Martin, who sent in the picture from Wauzeka Township.

This buck was confirmed to have died from EHD. The picture was taken in Rhein Hollow near Rex Walter's home before the virus took the animal.

This buck found along Plum Creek Road in rural Wauzeka is figured to have been infected with EHD.

In many cases of deer experiencing EHD symptoms, they are easily approachable, as they’ve lost their wariness of people. This deer was in the Wauzeka Township.

Most all the deer with confirmed or suspected EHD in Crawford County have been located real close to a water source.

By Correne Martin

Over 100 deer are suspected dead in Crawford County, and about seven were confirmed dead, as of Sept. 26, from a sporadic virus transmitted by biting flies also referred to as midges, according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials. Local hunters and the DNR believe this is, by no means, the final count either.

Hemorrhagic disease (HD) is an infectious, often fatal, condition that affects white-tailed deer, caused by either bluetongue virus (BTV) or epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) virus, which are both indistinguishable in external appearance and only identified in laboratory testing. 

From within seven to 10 days of contracting EHD, these deer are dying of internal hemorrhaging and high fevers, often near water because they want to cool off or drink. EHD symptoms also include excessive and sometimes bloody salivation, a rosy or bluish tongue in some cases and loss of wariness, according to Bret Owsley, DNR Wildlife Management District Supervisor. 

“When we’re finding dead deer next to a water source or getting reports of people being able to walk right up next to the deer and pet them, and we know [EHD] is in the county, we may not need to sample them,” Owsley stated, explaining that these cases are then considered probable. “We also may not be able to sample them because, for our protocol, we need to get to that carcass by 48 hours.” This is to ensure the sample is fresh and doesn’t result in a false negative.

Crawford and Vernon county wildlife biologist, Dan Goltz, urges the public to still report first-hand observation of abnormal single or group deer deaths to the DNR.

“We want people to call us so we can have an accurate handle on geographic distribution and make more informed decisions about what EHD looks like in Wisconsin,” Goltz said.

It’s a non-discriminatory disease, so it can afflict any age, bucks and does. He said they may otherwise look like healthy deer, with very little outward indications of the disease.

“EHD can take deer in all seasons. It’s more evident now because people are out prepping for deer hunting, harvest season is starting and weeds are down,” added Brian Sauer, Iowa DNR private lands wildlife conservationist. He noted that northeast Iowa battled the disease three or four years ago around the Sny Magill Creek area in Clayton County, though, this year, only two cases so far have been suspected in the county. 

“Crawford is having the most reports at this point,” said Nancy Businga, a microbiologist in the Wisconsin diagnostic lab that is testing lung tissue samples for the viruses. “But Richland and La Crosse counties have had a couple and Sauk has at least one confirmed.” 

She emphasized the EHD virus poses no risk to humans. DNR literature on this condition states that “humans are not at risk when handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer or being bitten by infected midges.”

“If the deer appeared sick in any other way, we obviously wouldn’t recommend eating the deer,” Businga said. 

Landowners and hunters are advised that deer carcasses can be left on the landscape to decompose as the virus does not survive. The DNR doesn’t plan to collect or remove deer suspected of having died from EHD.

The DNR claims some deer have survived EHD. In those that recover, ridged hoof growths may be noticeable. The short-lived disease is said to cease once the midges die with the first hard frost.

Goltz assured that the state of Wisconsin, and even Crawford County, shouldn’t expect EHD to impact its deer population as a whole. However, he said, landowners with acreage who have found 20 dead deer, for example, may “most certainly” see a localized effect. 

Deer hunters who personally responded to a Courier Press Facebook post about the outbreak have mostly represented the Kickapoo Valley. 

Troy Martin said he observed a couple along Rhein Hollow Road in Wauzeka Township. 

“It’s a shame,” he said.

Jeff Clausen reported at least 30 dead from EHD on a 1,500-acre property in the town of Haney. 

Others said a property in Steuben has found 12 to 15 affected, while another hunting group along Taylor Ridge in Barnum has witnessed about 20. 

Randy Mara hunts with his brothers and friends on an 800-acre parcel near Plum Creek Road in rural Wauzeka. He affirmed Sept. 26, that 30 dead deer have been found on the property since about a month ago, and all were within about 30 yards of water. He said a couple were confirmed by the DNR to have EHD.

“It seems like they decay a lot faster with this than any normal deer,” Mara commented. “I found one Thursday and it had a couple flies on it. When I came by again Tuesday, it was nearly all bones already. And you don’t see a vulture, eagle or a crow near ‘em.”

He shared that he was able to walk right up to a few infected deer. “It was like they were staring into space. They don’t know anything, but they’re real docile.”

In the fall of 2012, the DNR recorded significant amounts of deer found dead in eight southern Wisconsin counties, many of which tested positive for EHD. Then, Goltz said, no real repercussions were seen among the general deer population. Since that year, Wisconsin saw one confirmed case with no additional or suspect cases in 2017.

The DNR first diagnosed EHD in Wisconsin deer in the fall of 2002, when about 14 were found suddenly dead in Iowa County. That year’s outbreak was suspected of killing around 380 deer, and most deaths were reported in Columbia and Dane counties. Between 2002 and 2011, samples from deer were collected and tested, and results didn’t show exposure to the viruses that cause HD, which suggested HD isn’t common in the state.

“It’s typically very strongly related to drought conditions,” Sauer said. “The midge hatches, and it spreads fairly fast.”

Owsley said this year seems to be counteracting that theory, as the weather has been wet and cooler. 

He’s afraid very little can be done to prevent or stop the spread of EHD, although the DNR will continue monitoring it in order to get a hold on herd management strategies.

In the meantime, Clausen said his group is going to be “super selective” about the deer it harvests this fall. He said their trail cameras have seen much less activity since this outbreak started.

As for Mara and his crew, they plan to go “buck only” this hunting season. 

He concluded simply: “It’s really unfortunate.”

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