No, the sky isn’t falling | News, Sports, Jobs

For the past several decades I have attempted to use this space graciously given to me to inform, share and provide insight mainly on all things fishing and hunting.

When I feel the need or the burning desire in my stomach, I go for the soapbox—but mostly I try to stay positive.

Well folks, this week isn’t going to be that positive. But I urge you, if you don’t skim the following words, but read them all the way through, then do your own research. Hopefully this will help you understand what Sky Falling is all about.

The first time I witnessed the sky fall first hand was in South Dakota a decade ago. I was part of a group heading west to take part in a spring turkey hunt. While we cursed back roads to the next Spring Eater ambush.

My guide hit the brakes on his F150 and asked us to get out. As I walked to the small watering hole, I saw something I never thought or hoped I would ever see. When I jumped back into the truck it was only a short drive before we stopped abruptly again and walked over to see what was sticking out from under a large bush.

The first thing that struck me about these two white-tailed deer—both of them—was the size of their heads, tongues, eyes, and necks. I had witnessed firsthand the deaths of two white-tailed deer from epizootic hemorrhagic disease, also known as EHD.

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EHD is transmitted by mosquitoes called Culicoides. These little creatures travel from deer to deer, biting them and then moving on.

This disease is almost always fatal in white-tailed deer. Some deer have actually been found to develop immunity to the virus. There is no known reason why this is the case with a handful of whitestarts.

Much has been learned about EHD in recent years and in many cases this is not the case “the sky falls” as was previously thought. In most cases, those affected are killed, meaning affected herds are restricted. It doesn’t wipe out a flock as was believed decades ago.

Make no doubt it affects herds of deer, as does hunting and hunters. What this effect is depends on the flock and its location.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reported this week that three deer in Southampton, Suffolk County tested positive for bluetongue disease, which is closely related to the EHD virus and is transmitted in the same way. This is the first time bluetongue virus has been detected in New York City deer. It was spotted in several other mid-Atlantic coastal states this year.

DEC also reported that two white-tailed deer were found dead in the town of Schodack, Rensselaer County in late August, and one deer in Southampton, Suffolk County was confirmed positive for EHD. This is in addition to two deer in the town of Dover Plains, Dutchess County, which died of EHD in mid-August.

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EHD virus and BT virus are often fatal to deer. EHD and BT outbreaks are most common in late summer and early fall when mosquitoes are plentiful. Diseases caused by the viruses are not usually transmitted directly from deer to deer, and humans cannot be infected through deer or mosquito bites.

EHD and BT cause similar symptoms in deer, including fever, difficulty breathing, dehydration, swelling of the head, throat, and tongue, attraction to water, and rapid death. Often, infected deer seek out water sources, and many succumb in or near a water source. Once clinical signs of EHD or BT infection are evident, deer usually die within 36 hours.

There is no treatment or means to prevent EHD or BT in free-roaming deer. The dead deer do not serve as a source of infection for other animals. Both EHD and BT can infect cattle and sheep; Cattle rarely show signs of disease, but sheep can become seriously ill and die from BT infection.

EHD virus was first confirmed in New York in 2007, with relatively small outbreaks in Albany, Rensselaer, and Niagara counties, and in Rockland County in 2011. In 2020, a large EHD outbreak occurred in the lower Hudson Valley, centered in Putnam and Orange counties, with reports from the public of approximately 1,500 deer dead. In 2021, the outbreak shifted and DEC received more than 2,000 reports of dead deer, mostly in Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia, Oswego and Jefferson counties.

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EHD and BT outbreaks do not have significant long-term impacts on deer populations, but deer mortality can be high in small geographic areas. EHD is endemic to the southern states, where outbreaks occur annually, so some southern deer have developed immunity. EHD outbreaks are sporadic in the Northeast and New York deer have little or no immunity to this virus. Consequently, it is expected that most EHD-infected deer in New York will die. In the north, the first hard frost kills the mosquitoes that transmit the disease and ends the EHD and BT outbreaks.

With this latest announcement/results in New York State, this will be a change for athletes. What this means for the future of the white-tailed deer, which we have hunted for years, is currently unknown. What I can share is that in states where EHD has existed for years, whitetails are still plentiful and thriving.

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