MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The recent deaths of hundreds of whitetail deer west of Missoula were caused by epizootic hemorrhagic disease, the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said.
It was the first confirmed outbreak of the disease west of the Continental Divide in Montana, officials said in a release Monday.
Nearly 400 dead deer have been reported in the Clark Fork River valley since mid-September. The department tested samples from several dozen deer.
“The test results we got back this week are from the earliest samples we collected in the core area of the outbreak west of Missoula,“ wildlife biologist Vickie Edwards of Missoula said.
Samples from dead deer found farther away from the main outbreak were still being tested, Edwards said.
The disease is caused by a virus spread by biting midges or gnats. It causes bleeding that can kill the infected animal a day or two after a six-day incubation period. Dead animals frequently are found near water, where they go to alleviate a high fever caused by the disease.
Other parts of Montana reported outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease late this summer.
Agency spokesman Ron Aasheim said some hunting districts between Great Falls and the Canadian border have seen up to 50 percent mortality after the disease started appearing in August and September. The agency is considering canceling antlerless hunting opportunities in north-central Montana to compensate. The FWP Board of Commissioners would have to approve any changes at its meeting on Thursday.
The hunting regulations have already been published, “so if they change it, we'll have to do a (publicity) blitz before the general hunting season starts,“ Aasheim says.