WOODS & WATER FEATURE SECTION
For many deer hunters and hunting-related businesses in the Ionia, Montcalm and Kent counties, the frost couldn’t come any quicker, especially in Ionia, where a small insect, the midge fly, is the culprit for spreading a disease in the state’s deer population that has wiped out more than 2,800 deer since July.
Several counties, including Montcalm County, have had reports of deer deaths caused by epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), a fast-acting, infectious viral disease that attacks the vascular system in a deer, causing hemorrhaging, high fevers, internal intestinal bleeding and bleeding from the mouth and anus, which proves fatal for many deer.
The disease is not new, as it has been in Michigan since the 1950s and cases of EHD have been reported in the state annually since 2006, although previous cases usually involve small, secluded pockets of deer.
“Because of Michigan’s climate in fall, midges don’t do as well as they do in other states because of our frost,” said John Niewoonder, a wildlife biologist at Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Flat River Gaming Area office in Belding. “Before 2006, EHD was reported only twice since the 1950s. We have had hotter, drier summers lately, this summer especially, which is likely the cause of more of the outbreak we are seeing.”
As of Sept. 12, there was a record number 2,800 reports of EHD-related deer deaths. Ionia County reported 1,560 deaths, Montcalm County 67, Clinton County 188 and Kent County 41. Last year’s total count was around 500, Niewoonder said.
The virus, which only spreads from a bite from a midge fly, affects only deer and cannot be transferred to humans or domestic animals, according to the DNR. Cattle have been known to carry the virus, however, so far there have been no cases reported of cattle dying caused by or even showing symptoms of EHD.
The mortality for infected deer is between three to 12 days, according to Tom Cooley, a DNR wildlife biologist based in Lansing.
“If (an infected deer) doesn’t die within that time, it will recover,” said Cooley, who said this year’s outbreak is the worst he’s seen in a few years.
The first confirmed EHD-caused deer death this year was reported July 23 in Branch County.
Impact on this year’s hunting still unknown
When Brent TenEyck of Six Lakes got wind of EHD spreading in the area, he decided to scout his usual hunting grounds north of Sheridan. What he found made him rethink where he will be hunting when fall hunting begins in October.
“I’m not really sure what to think of it. It’s crazy,” said TenEyck, who, in one day, counted 27 dead deer in and around his hunting area. “Hunting in that area is going to be horrible this year.”
TenEyck said he heard one man found 40 dead deer in one ditch in Ionia County.
“I’m still going to hunt there but maybe not this year,” said TenEyck, who now plans to hunt near Belding this year.
Hunting in Michigan is a major industry, with an estimated $50 million generated from hunting and fishing license sales alone. Many local businesses will be feeling the pinch, as well, according to Adam Eller, owner of Carson Village Market in Carson City.
“We’re all crossing our fingers and hoping over these last few weeks (of summer) it doesn’t hit Montcalm County as hard as it has Ionia County,” said Eller, an avid hunter and a one of the hosts of “No Limits Outdoors,” an online hunting and fishing show. “This is going to affect everything. Meat processors I know are worried. But you also have deer feed providers, gas stations and even meat donations to local food pantries.”
Eller’s Carson Village Market is an annual participant in the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger movement, which campaigns for hunters to donate venison to local food pantries for residents in need of food. Carson Village Market was able to collect as much as 3,200 pounds of venison two years ago. Last year, the total amount was down. Eller fears it will be dramatically worse this year due to EHD.
“We collect meat at our Muir store, too, and I highly doubt we’ll have much of anything, if anything at all, there,” he said. “The worst part of all of this is we need frost to kill the midge flies, but then that hurts the farmers and their crops.”
Eller fears if EHD gains momentum in Montcalm County in these last few weeks it’ll be at least a decade before deer population numbers are healthy again.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people and not everything is getting reported. What’s taken place in Ionia County, it’s going to take them 10 to 12 years without hunting to get that herd back. What are the businesses and hunters suppose to do in the meantime?”
Niewoonder said it is difficult to assess how big of an impact this year’s EHD outbreak will have on the overall deer population until after getting more feedback from hunters who will frequent the woods more once hunting begins.
“Deer can build up immunity but when they get bit, they get sick quickly and many of them die quickly,” Niewoonder said. “But it’s like the flu in humans. The ones that get it and survive are inoculated against that strain. Hopefully, through this whole process, deer will have built up an immunity so we don’t see it this bad again. We will know a lot more after hunting season.”
For more information on EHD, go online to www.michigan.gov/wildlifedisease.