“In the past month, we’ve removed five carcasses from our property, and then I was out kayaking and saw three really ripe ones in the slough,” said Sally Grant. “I know of at least five other deer on Round Lake Road that have died recently. Down the road this morning, there was a buck trying to get through the fence, it was all hunched up and on its way out. What a way to go.”
Deer throughout North Idaho have been struck with an outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases spread by insect bites, causing fever and swelling in the animals and is often fatal.
On Sept. 17, a man in Tensed thought a five-point buck was stuck in his fence, but when he went down with some cutters, the deer wasn’t tangled at all, he was just standing there, foaming at the mouth.
Also on Sept. 17, a woman on Cottonwood Drive in St. Maries reported a dead deer between her property and her neighbor’s, and that it had been there for about three days. Three others in the area called 911 over the next week reporting dead deer. The dispatch center does not release callers’ names, but the reports came from Tensed, St. Maries and Fernwood.
On Sept. 23, Dustin Horn called in and asked that any further reports be sent over to him at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG). Horn is a senior conservation officer with the agency, and he wanted to keep an eye on the progress of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD).
“EHD has been pretty widespread throughout the Panhandle and Clearwater regions,” Horn said. “At this point, we’re very aware that it’s present, and our biologists only asked me to keep them apprised of numbers and locations of dead deer as they’re reported. At this point, we aren’t collecting any more samples, so simply tracking mortality numbers is the main remaining goal.”
Deer infected with EHD usually develop a fever as fluid spreads throughout their internal organs, and their hooves often grow abnormally or slough off. Other swelling is also common. Neither humans nor household pets are susceptible to the disease. Farm animals like cattle and sheep can be exposed, but rarely become infected.
EHD is transmitted deer-to-deer or through small insects like gnats and midges, so it spreads easily when more deer have gathered at whatever water sources were available. IDFG estimates that hundreds of deer in the state have died of the hemorrhagic diseases this year. Diseases like this are fairly common in northern and central Idaho, but more deer have died this year because the summer’s hot and dry weather have created ideal conditions for the disease to spread.
The department first saw increased levels of EHD near Kamiah, in Clearwater County, near the middle of the summer, and it has spread north from there. Colder temperatures will likely bring down the insect population that spreads EHD, so cases are expected to decline after the first frost.
IDFG does not expect the hunting season to be much affected by the EHD outbreak, but others are more concerned.
“I saw two twin fawns following a buck around, and a little later, saw one fawn with a buck, because they’ve lost their mothers,” Grant said. “It makes me worry for the population.”
Meat from deer who have died of EHD is not safe to eat, although in rare cases, the animal heals from the disease and would be safe to eat if hunted after recovering. The department recommends cooking all game meat thoroughly and using rubber or latex gloves when field dressing or butchering carcasses.
Currently, there is no treatment for the disease, so IDFG has been focusing on monitoring its spread and is no longer collecting samples. To report a sick or dead deer, visit the IDFG Wildlife Health reporting page at https://idfg.idaho.gov/conservation/wildlife-health/add or call the Panhandle region department office at (208) 769-1414 for the most up-to-date information, to report an encounter or ask any questions.