by Charlie Kammerer
The rampant overpopulation of deer in the United States is clearly a problem. One solution is to introduce a disease to the population in a similar fashion to the introduction of Myxoma virus to rabbit populations in Australia. There are many complexities that make this less than ideal for dealing with the deer problem, but the residents of Frenchtown, Montana discovered the simplest reason. What do you do with all of the dead deer?
Homeowners reported seeing upwards of 100 deer carcasses acumulate in little over a week. This was due to the spread of the virus responsible for Epizootic Hemorragic Disease or EHD. The disease is transimitted from one deer to another via an insect vector, most commonly a fly (Culicoides variipennis). The deer develop a fever roughly 7 days after infection and often seek bodies of water to help regulate their spiking internal temperature. Once there, the deer die within 2 days and their bodies begin to decompose. Deer die offs happen annually, but they are not predictable. When they do happen, they happen quickly and in concenctrated geographical areas, as the people of Frenchtown, Montana found out.
There is no current treatment or cure for EHD so these die offs will continue. Thus, homeowners with bodies of water that deer frequent must keep an eye out for strange behavior. It is generally the obligation of the landowner to deal with animal remains but in special cases, local government funded programs do exist. In the case of someone who has 100 deer die on their property over the course of a week and a half, there is no real precedent. Clearly, the logisical problems associated with handling these EHD outbreaks have highlighted an interesting complexity with the overpopulation problem with deer. Although we can take steps to limit deer overabundance, what do we do with the deer we already have?
EHD could be used to decrease the deer population but without additional help from local government citizens will be on their own for clean up. The venison is still perfectly eddible as EHD cannot be transmitted to humans so perhaps some of the meat can be prepared and given to homeless shelters, but who would organize that initiative?
For now the solution to an outbreak of Epizootic Hemorragic Disease is to leave dead deer in the woods as you find them and hope the disease does not spread. If multiple deer being to die on your property, call your local wildlife agency and they will be able to help you, be it directly or by advising you on how to handle your situation. Although there is a solution to dealing with the 100 dead deer that piled up, another question still remains. What do we do with the hundreds of deer that replace them every year?