WILKESBORO — North Carolina Wildlife Resources officials will be meeting today at 6 p.m. at Wilkes Community College to give the public information on hemorrhagic fever’s impact on deer.
Local Wildlife Biologist Chris Kreh will be one of the keynote presenters at the event. His first task will be to discuss the basics of the disease and its impact, what it has done to deer populations and what, if anything, resources officials plan to do.
“We have had a perfect storm this year as far as this virus goes,” said Kreh. “There’s been a general misconception that overpopulation is the reason we have gotten this disease. This virus is independent of population. It is seen in small populations as well. High populations where deer decline are just more visible.”
Kreh explained that the hemorrhagic fever virus occurs naturally. He said that as far back as 100 years ago records kept describe the disease in deer. Three factors that determine how the virus expresses itself are how much immunity deer herds have to the virus, how strong or aggressive the virus is because there are different strains of the fever and the size of the populations of a special type of biting fly, the midge fly. Weather, this year for instance, was nearly perfect for the flies to thrive.
“This has been the worst year we have seen so far for deer,” added Kreh. “The mortality has been substantial.” Generally hemorrhagic fever appears in late summer and early fall. He said that that the western third of the state usually sees anywhere from 10 to 20 cases total in a year. More than 1,000 cases have been confirmed already.
Kreh stressed that deer don’t always die from the fever. Those that contract the acute form of the virus can die in one to two days. These are the deer that suffer from dehydration and are often found dead near a body of water. One other factor in the perfect storm that has hit local deer is the fever has not been present enough locally for survivors to build up and pass on immunity.
He indicated that the highest numbers of deaths have been from northwest Surry County, northern Wilkes County and Caldwell County, the areas commonly considered the heart of the foothills area. Kreh said surveys indicated that locally the deer mortality has equaled the numbers harvested in an average hunting season. This ranges by area anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the deer population.
The informational meeting will be held before the department’s annual meeting that showcases changes in hunting regulations, which has prompted speculation that changes in the deer season would be announced. Kreh said that he anticipates no action taken on limits or deer season regulations this year in response to the fever.
The department’s rational for this season is that the mortality equals that of a normal hunting cycle. It anticipates hunters will have fewer opportunities because of this. Hunters also will be alert to the condition of the deer and only harvest healthy looking animals.
“Changes this late would be difficult to implement. We anticipate the additional mortality among herds will not be factor,” said Kreh. “We will continue to watch and survey. The concern could be what’s going to change in the long term for future seasons.”
He characterized the meeting as being staged to inform and to gather information from hunters. It is not a meeting for the public to vote on changes. Kreh also said the virus affects animals in the deer family. It could be a minor concern to come cattle and some varieties of sheep could show clinical signs of the disease. It does not affect pets or people.
The department continues to rely on hunters to not harvest deer that appear sick. He said it will be safe to take deer that appear healthy. He said humans are not at risk even if the animal has been exposed to the fever and is not showing symptoms.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.