Rumors of a rash of mule deer suddenly dropping dead east of Corvallis may be just that.
“I’ve heard of one buck so far,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Rebecca Mowry. “If people are seeing more, they need to be reporting that to me.”
On Wednesday, the Sapphire Range Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation posted a Facebook message asking if anyone in HD 262 had seen or heard of a large number of mature deer suddenly dropping dead.
The report indicated that four deer had been either recovered shortly after they died or had been put down by law enforcement. All of the deer were said to have had one severely swollen and decayed hoof.
Mowry took the head and hoof of the one deer she was notified about. The samples will be tested.
The hoof issue could be a symptom of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease or bluetongue, but Mowry said the outbreaks of that disease typically occur in the summer when the biting midge that carries the vector is active.
It may be possible that deer could have been infected in the summer and then weakened following the rut or facing winter conditions.
“The deer could have been sickened by it over the summer and are just now succumbing to it,” she said.
Mowry said she has patrolled the area and had not seen any sign of animals struggling beyond what’s normal for this time of year.
If people do spot a deer that appears to be in severe distress, Mowry would like them to call her or a warden.
“We would like them to only call us if the deer is obviously severely impacted,” she said. “If it’s not moving or looking like it can eat, we would like to hear about that. People need to also remember that this time of year, deer often don’t look they are in great health.”
There hasn’t been an outbreak of bluetongue near the Bitterroot Valley since 2013. The last one focused on whitetail in Missoula County and the northern edge of the Bitterroot.
Mowry said it’s also very unlikely that Bitterroot Valley deer would be diagnosed with chronic wasting disease. So far, the always fatal brain disease has not been found in deer in western Montana or Idaho.
“The odds of it showing up here in isolation would be rare,” she said. “The classic chronic wasting disease symptoms would be emaciation and deer standing with a wide stance and appearing to be out of it. It looks like they are wasting away because their brain is no longer working … We’re not aware of any of it here in western Montana.
“In the winter, there are a lot of things that can kill a deer,” Mowry said. “There’s not as much food and they can struggle.”
Dan Lyon, a past president of the Sapphire Range Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation, said its members are always closely watching the herd on the eastside of the Bitterroot Valley.
“So far, it appears to be limited to a couple of deer,” Lyon said. “We believe there might be some hoof issues, but without test results we don’t know what the heck is going on.
“We just know that you can do everything to build numbers up and then a disease sets in and you have to start over,” he said.
Mowry can be reached at 406-363-7141.