Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Kentucky: Disease Outbreak Won't Affect Hunting Season

Source: Kentucky DNR

Frankfort, Ky. – No changes are anticipated this year to Kentucky’s deer seasons or zones due to the widespread outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD).

Officials with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources have documented 3,000 deer deaths this year due to an outbreak of the disease. That number is only a fraction of Kentucky’s estimated deer herd of nearly one million.

“It’s only affected a small percentage of deer, so we’re not planning to change any seasons or zones this year,” said Wildlife Division Director Karen Alexy. ”There are still plenty of deer out there, and the first hard freeze should help stop the outbreak.”

A virus transmitted by the bite of a midge (gnat) causes hemorrhagic disease. Hard freezes should stop major outbreaks because the cold kills the midges. The virus is not infectious to humans and cannot be spread from the carcass of a deer.

The disease outbreak first flared in western Kentucky before progressing to a majority of counties in the state. Residents of northern and eastern Kentucky are now reporting an increasing number of deer deaths as the disease spreads. Officials in several surrounding states report similar outbreaks.

Kentucky’s outbreak is causing concern among hunters because of the visibility of dead animals. A majority of the carcasses are being found around water, where they are easily seen. This has led to a high number of calls to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife about the outbreak and whether deer seasons or zones will be affected this year.

Tina Brunjes, big game coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, points to the number of deer taken by archers this year as evidence that the disease is not having a large enough impact to affect hunting seasons or zones. The number of deer taken by archers during September was about the same as last year, which itself was a record year for deer harvest during that month.

“Deer harvest totals to date are about the same as they’ve been for the past three years,” she said. “If this disease was eliminating entire deer herds, then bow hunters wouldn’t be so successful.”

Kentucky has so many deer that it is not necessary to avoid harvesting does, especially in Zone 1 and Zone 2 counties, where the deer concentrations range up to 63 animals per square mile.

Department officials will reevaluate herd numbers once the outbreak ceases. This year’s drought and spotty production of the state’s white oak acorns and other nut crops may affect the number of deer that survive the winter. Department officials will evaluate total deer numbers and recommend any changes to zones in 2008, if needed, at the March meeting of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission.

In the meantime, hunters should not be deterred by the outbreak. Eating the meat of deer that appear to be healthy poses no risk to humans even if the deer is infected with hemorrhagic disease.

However, hunters should not consume animals that appear emaciated or weak prior to harvest, due to the risk of secondary infections. Hemorrhagic disease can cause large abscesses to form in the body cavity, muscle tissue or under the skin. These abscesses render the meat inedible.

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