The disease that claimed hundreds of Ohio white-tailed deer in recent weeks has run its course, but hunters here and around the country still have reason to worry.
EHD is epizootic hemorrhagic disease and spread by small, biting insects. Cold weather has arrived in southern Ohio, where EHD was prevalent, killing insects and halting the spread of the disease. Also called blue tongue or black tongue, EHD quickly kills infected deer. Even though EHD has killed many Ohio deer, wildlife officials predict this year’s hunting seasons will be fruitful. It is expected Ohio hunters could challenge the 1995 record harvest of 179,543 deer with a liberal limit of three per year in southeastern counties.
Prevalent in southern states, EHD outbreaks have surprised northern wildlife officials. Pennsylvania also had an outbreak of the disease in recent weeks, with more than 70 deer in southern Pennsylvania dying.
But now the concern is about Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, slowly spreading in deer and elk herds. It can take many months or even years before an animal displays the symptoms of the fatal brain and nervous system disease. CWD is much like Mad Cow Disease, which has killed about 100 people in England and Europe, but there is no evidence humans or livestock have contracted CWD.
An outbreak of CWD in Wisconsin has state officials scrambling to keep the outbreak in check. Many Wisconsin hunters have decided to pass on this year’s deer season, but Colorado hunting license sales have not been affected.
Some states have strict rules about the importation of deer and elk killed in other regions of the country. Colorado, where CWD was first discovered, requires hunters to submit the heads of deer and elk they kill in parts of the state where there has been a high incidence of CWD.
The growing list of states where CWD has been reported is topped by Colorado, but also includes Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, as well as the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Ohio has yet to establish any restrictions that would limit bringing deer or elk meat from states where CWD has been documented.
Pennsylvania officials have issued guidelines for hunters who will travel to areas where there have been CWD outbreaks. Many of the tips are extremely basic. Few hunters would eat the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen or tonsils of deer or elk, especially where CWD could lurk. It is unlikely, as well, that a hunter would consume an animal that appears sick or has tested positive for the disease.
Hunters should contact the state wildlife agency if they see or shoot an animal that appears ill. They should wear rubber gloves during field dressing, minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues and clean their hands and tools promptly. Deer and elk meat should be boned and hunters must properly dispose of the bones.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife will rely on the state department of agriculture to conduct random samplings of deer at check stations during the statewide deer gun season Dec. 2-8. Ohio wildlife officers have received training this summer on how to identify possible CWD cases.
The liberal deer hunting regulations in place in southern Ohio will not be modified after many deer died of EHD this fall. The majority of the deer were on private land and retiring game management supervisor Pat Ruble doesn’t expect an overharvest of deer to be an issue.
Deer populations historically should return to normal levels in one or two years, say wildlife officials.