An epidemic of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease has killed about half of the white-tailed deer herd in north central Montana, prompting Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to consider limiting mule deer harvest in some hunting districts.
Minor outbreaks of EHD are not uncommon and typically don’t affect enough animals to warrant hunting season changes. However, in Region 4, EHD is considered to be at epidemic proportions. It’s also been found in low to moderate levels elsewhere in the state.
Ron Aasheim, a spokesman for the state agency, said they’re not recommending any changes to the white-tailed deer licenses in Region 4, since their numbers were over objectives anyway with the hope of removing their abundance to minimize conflicts.
However, wildlife biologists in the region are concerned that with white-tailed deer less dominant on the landscape due to the disease, hunters will turn to mule deer. Currently, they can take either sex mule deer and in hunting districts 400, 401, 403, 404 and 406; FWP recommends changing regulations this fall so only antlered bucks could be harvested.
“We want to protect mule deer from a potentially major shift from white-tailed to mule deer,” Aasheim said. “The mule deer doesn’t rebound as quickly as white-tailed does, so we’re trying to prevent the additional pressure that might happen.”
The matter will come before the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its Oct. 10 meeting, which will be held in Miles City. The commission could adopt the state agency’s recommendation; it also could make changes to the white-tailed deer licenses.
“You could look at it that if white-tailed numbers are down by 50 percent, why aren’t we protecting them,” Aasheim said. “The answer is that it can still be discussed (at the commission meeting). We didn’t make that recommendation because we are over their objectives and they will rebound quickly.”
Given the emergency nature of the proposed change, the commission is expected to take final action at its meeting, and that is the only time public comment will be taken.
EHD is a common and somewhat chronic disease of white-tailed deer in Montana, according to FWP. The disease is transmitted by biting flies, known as midges, and typically occurs in late summer and early fall.
The outbreaks end after the first hard frost kills the flies.
Close to 200 white-tailed deer in the Missoula Valley are suspected to have died from the disease. If lab results confirm EHD in the deaths, it will be the first known substantial outbreak in Region 2.
Changes aren’t warranted in hunting districts there, according to FWP, since the die-off took place in an urban/valley area, where deer harvest regulations were liberal to address a variety of conflicts and their population remains “robust.”