Last year’s discovery of chronic wasting disease in Pennsylvania was significant, and it took away some of the attention on another deadly deer disease that has been present in the state for a few years – epizootic hemorrhagic disease. Since 2007 there have been several outbreaks of EHD in southwestern Pennsylvania and one, in 2011, in the eastern part of the state.
The outbreaks here have been somewhat isolated, but just the fact that EHD is present in the state is cause for concern.
Because it has been producing devastating impacts elsewhere.
In Nebraska, for example, EHD killed so many deer after last summer’s outbreak that the state reduced its antlerless license allocations and saw its deer harvest decrease by almost a third last hunting season.
In Michigan, EHD was responsible for the deaths of 13,000 deer.
And that’s not even the scary part. Consider this comment from Brent Rudolph, Michigan’s deer and elk program leader.
“Until this year, we’ve never seen enough EHD in Michigan to cause population declines on a broad scale,” Rudolph was quoted in a press release.
Sounds a lot like Pennsylvania, as we have yet to see drastic declines due to EHD but that could change.
So far, the disease here hasn’t caused any significant mortality in our deer herd, but the fact that it exists in the state means the threat is there.
When it comes to EHD, Michigan was a lot like Pennsylvania, until last year.
Can EHD take a sudden spike and impact our deer herd all at once like the situation in Michigan?
Unfortunately, I think the possibility exists.
In 1996, EHD was suspected in the deaths of nearly 25 deer in Adams County. Outbreaks occurred in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2002 and 2007, in Northampton and Erie counties in 2011 and last year EHD was either confirmed or suspected in deer deaths in six counties, including 35 dead deer in Beaver and Cambria counties and 19 in Montgomery County.
Those might not be staggering numbers, but if the outbreaks are confined to a particular area losing a few dozen deer could be devastating.
Also, EHD was confirmed in captive deer deaths in Northampton and Erie counties last year. That’s concerning because it raises the question if the disease can be brought into the state via the importation of captive deer.
The disease is spread by midges that feed on an infected animal and then spread the virus by feeding on other animals. The species of midge that carries EHD doesn’t normally occur in Pennsylvania but officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission believe they are brought here via wind currents.
Because EHD outbreaks usually occur several years apart, our deer don’t have any immunity to the disease. That makes them more susceptible to high mortality rates when an outbreak hits.
There is no treatment for EHD and the only control is the first hard frost of the year, which kills the midges.
With the mild winters we’ve been seeing lately, those hard frosts occur later in the year, giving the midges more time to spread the disease.
Right now midwest states such as Michigan are monitoring the disease closely and they will factor in the impact of EHD when it comes time to set license allocations and season lengths.
Think about that: A disease is now influencing how wildlife managers in other states set anterless allocations and season lengths.
That alone speaks to the severity of EHD. And it’s enough, in my opinion, for concern among hunters in every state where EHD exists.
Unfortunately, that includes Pennsylvania.