The ongoing drought threatens to make it harder for conservation officials to slow the spread of diseases that affect the state’s deer herd.
To keep epizootic hemorrhagic disease, chronic wasting disease and blue tongue from spreading, the Conservation Department would like to not have deer congregate at places like watering holes. That’s hard to do when many of those holes have dried up and the deer have fewer places to choose from.
Biologist Lonnie Hansen says drought conditions are also good for midge flies, that spread EHD, which he says is the greatest threat among those maladies.
“You’ve got a deer that has hemorrhagic disease, or has the virus, the fly bites that one and then goes and bites another, healthy deer and the disease is transmitted that way. So, you’re putting the deer concentrated at a location but you’ve also got the midge fly at the same location and so transmission of the disease is much easier.”
Chronic wasting disease has been confirmed in 16 deer in Missouri. While its spread is a concern, Hansen says EHD and blue tongue pose greater threats.
“The EHD and blue tongue standpoint it could have big affects, and when we get some of these most serious outbreaks, we can lose locally up to 50 percent of the deer. Over the years there are certain areas where deer populations have been knocked back considerably when we get these outbreaks. Now they, over time, can recover but nevertheless there can be some short-term, really significant impacts on white-tailed deer populations.”
Even if an outbreak occurs, statewide, Hansen says the deer herd will be alright. “Deer are very resilient, and populations generally recover after a period of time.”
Hansen urges hunters and landowners who find animals they believe to be sick to contact conservation officials immediately.
He says deer hunting in Missouri is an industry of over $1 billion annually.