Deer deaths rise, but cold weather could slow death rate

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 | 6:09 p.m. CDT; updated 6:46 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 10, 2012

COLUMBIA—Missouri's white-tailed deer continue to be killed by a disease transmitted by midge flies, but the recent cold weather might be signaling an end to the outbreak.

Missouri Department of Conservation deer biologist Jason Sumners on Tuesday said the total number of deer deaths reported statewide was near 5,000, but the numbers are only a best guess because a large portion of the deaths go unreported.

The reported deaths began in mid-July and were made worse by drought conditions this summer that reduced the number of watering sources and forced deer to congregate near the mudflats where the midge flies breed, according to a previous Missourian report.  

Sumners said the number of incidents of infected individuals was in a downward trend as the cold weather brings an end to the life cycle of the midge flies. 

The impact on deer populations could be a decrease as high as 15 to 20 percent in counties hardest hit, Sumner said, with more localized populations reduced by as much as 50 percent. Sumners said the estimates are based on models of comparable outbreaks in past years. 

Models used to measure deer populations estimated the statewide population before the fall hunting season to be 1.4 million, Sumners said. 

He said the worst hit counties are primarily in the central part of the state, including Boone, Callaway and Osage.

As of Oct. 9, there had been 156 deer deaths reported in Boone County associated with the disease, Sumners said. 

Sumners said hunters should be aware of the impact the disease has had on deer populations as they take to the woods.

"Hunters need to be conservative in their doe harvest in places especially hard hit," Sumners said. "Deer management is a local issue, and individuals need to take responsibility and ownership of their harvest decisions."

Other states in the Midwest have also seen deer deaths associated with the disease, but Sumners said Missouri has been among the worst affected.  

"The disease is impacting deer populations across the entirety of the Midwest and Missouri is no exception," Sumners said. "It's been a pretty severe and widespread outbreak." 

The disease cannot be transmitted to humans and the handling or consumption of meat from deer that have recovered from the disease pose no health risks, according to a Department of Conservation news release.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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