By KEVIN WALKER
LANSING, Mich. — An unprecedented outbreak in epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in deer this year is prompting state officials to ask the public for its help in tracking the number of deer deaths.
As of last week, the number of deer killed by EHD in Michigan had risen to 11,000, according to Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates. “This year’s the biggest outbreak we’ve had of EHD in a long time; ever, really,” said Dan O’Brien, a wildlife veterinarian with the DNR.
“That’s a pretty crude estimate,” he said of the 11,000 figure. “The true number of deaths could be lower because people could be reporting deer that died from something else.”
Or, he said, the actual number of deaths from EHD could be higher. “We’ll continue counting them until the end of the year. The number of reports we’ve been getting lately has been going down.”
But farmers are still harvesting corn, so they may find more dead deer in their fields, although deer that contract EHD have high fevers and end up seeking bodies of water. Because of this many of them end up being found near a pond or lake.
With the regular deer hunting season coming up Nov. 15, hunters will find more dead deer as well. The DNR is trying harder this year to count the number of deer killed by EHD, in part because the department has been criticized in the past for not doing so.
“We get calls from hunters all the time accusing us of underplaying the amount of deer deaths,” O’Brien said. “I don’t really know why, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
He said EHD in Michigan is a big deal because Michigan hunters aren’t used to this particular disease. This is a common malady, however; EHD is much more prevalent “to the south of us, in Ohio and elsewhere. The outbreak this year is so much bigger.”
There are an estimated 1.7 million deer in Michigan altogether, 65,000 deer vehicle crashes each year and 400,000-500,000 hunter-killed deer each year.
“Certainly I think it’s possible some folks could see less deer, this year and maybe for years to come,” O’Brien said. “But whitetail deer are a pretty resilient species.”
He explained EHD can have a big impact on a deer population in the short term, but over the longer term it’s not that significant, especially when compared with diseases such as chronic wasting disease or bovine tuberculosis.
Deer have died in significant numbers this year in 29 counties, but none north of Clare County. The DNR will be taking reports of dead deer until Jan. 1 so it can prepare hunting season recommendations for 2013.
The virus is transmitted by a small fly called a midge fly. Although there have probably been deer deaths from EHD since the late 19th century, it’s known for certain there were EHD deer die-offs in Michigan in 1955, 1974, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In 1974, 100 deer died from EHD. In 2006 the outbreak occurred in Allegan County and affected 50-75 deer. In 2008, the disease occurred in southeastern lower Michigan and involved 150-200 deer. In 2009, the outbreak in Livingston County involved 300-450 deer.
In 2010, the die-off occurred in the southwestern part of the state again and affected 1,025 deer. In 2011, a die-off occurred in the southwestern part of the state and affected 300 deer. It’s thought the disease probably can’t be spread to humans.
To report a dead deer, call the nearest DNR office. To find out more about the outbreak, visit the DNR’s website at www.michigan.gov/dnr