Wildlife agency officials in South Dakota and Nebraska are considering taking measures to reduce the number of deer hunting licenses or permits issued this fall due to outbreaks of a viral disease in the state’s deer herds, according to The Associated Press.
Agencies in both states are blaming significant deer die-offs on epizootic hemorrhagic disease. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said EHD is believed to have killed more than 3,000 deer in the state over the past few months. John Kanta, a regional wildlife manager with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, told a KEVN-TV in Rapid City that more than 1,100 cases in EHD have been reported by hunters, farmers and game wardens.
“We have seen a late surge the last three weeks,” Sam Schelhaas, conservation officer for Yankton County, S.D., told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan. “And from what I have been told, it’s going to get worse.”
EHD is an infectious, often fatal disease that is affecting deer herds in many parts of the United States. EHD has been blamed for many isolated deer die-offs in recent years, but signs continue to point toward more significant numbers this year.
The primary reason is believed to be the substantial drought that struck most of the middle portion of the United States this summer. Outbreaks of EHD tend to be more severe during and after such conditions. When water sources dry up during times of drought, deer are forced to drink from stagnant pools. From those pools, deer come in contact with midge flies, which carry EHD.
“The first few calls were isolated here and there,” Schelhaas said. “Now, in talking to officers in other counties, some of the bigger landowners are finding 10 and 12 dead deer on their property. Hutchinson County has really been hit.”
“As far as the deer in my hunting area, there were more than 50 dead by the 18th of August,” said Mark Bauer, who operates Martin Creek Outfitters & Lodge in Hutchinson County.
Bauer has asked South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks officials to revisit the number of licenses made available. Hutchinson County is currently allowed 800 deer tags, but Bauer said that many would decimate what’s left of the county’s deer population.
South Dakota officials are considering taking away some leftover licenses or even granting refunds to hunters who already have deer tags, Kanta said. Last year in North Dakota, the sale of some licenses were suspended and refunds were offered to holders of 13,000 licenses already sold after an EHD outbreak in the western part of the state.
According to The Associated Press, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has scheduled an Oct. 26 meeting in North Platte, where it will consider reducing the number of antlerless deer permits it will issue for the rest of the year. If the changes are approved, they will go into effect immediately, but all permits purchased before any changes will remain valid, the commission said.
The proposal being studied by the commission would amount to nearly 9,000 fewer antlerless permits, but would leave more than 17,000 antlerless permits still available.
Nebraska hunters are also encouraged by the commission to talk to landowners about local deer populations and to be thoughtful about where they buy permits to hunt this year. The commission said the severity of losses to EHD “can be highly localized,” and drought and wildfires in the state may also have changed where deer congregate this fall.
All documented outbreaks of EHD have occurred during late summer and early fall (August-October) and have ceased abruptly with the onset of frost.